Don’t Fall Into This Common Data Trap
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February 20, 2015

Don’t Fall Into This Common Data Trap

By Dennis Pierce

Common Trap-Data Driven DecisionsYou’re analyzing student data to improve achievement in your schools, which is terrific. But are you doing this wisely?

A common trap many school and district leaders fall into is looking only at test scores or other measures of student performance. But there are many other indicators you should be looking at as well.

“True data-driven decision making … is about more than just test scores,” says Chris O’Neal, a leadership consultant for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), in his book Data-Driven Decision Making: A Handbook for School Leaders. “It’s about exploring the overall health and well-being of a district or school. It’s about asking the players in the school community to provide feedback on an ongoing basis.”

The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) defines useful educational data as “any information people with a stake in education need to make decisions,” including grades, attendance, and courses taken, as well as teacher and financial information.

The most useful data share the following characteristics, DQC says:

  • Longitudinal: Following individual students over time and across systems and sectors.
  • Actionable: Timely, user friendly, and tailored to users.
  • Contextual: Robust, comparable, and presented as part of a bigger picture.

In their book Data-Driven Leadership, Amanda Datnow and Vicki Park identify four main types of educational data:

  • Demographic data, including attendance and discipline records.
  • Student achievement data, which include not only standardized test scores but also formative assessments, writing portfolios, and so on.
  • Instructional data, which include teachers’ use of time, patterns of course enrollment, and the quality of the curriculum.
  • Perception data, which give insights about the values, beliefs, and views of the school or district community.

To drive continuous improvement in your schools, you should be collecting, analyzing, and basing decisions on all four of these types of data on a regular basis.

That means taking the temperature of your schools frequently through observations and surveys, comparing data across several different variables, and being creative and open-minded in exploring predictors of success.

Dennis Pierce-footer

Conversation Starter from SunGard K-12:

What data do you find useful in supporting student achievement? How is your district sharing data and collaborating to enhance student success? Please start a conversation below.


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