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Read Using Data to Improve Schools: Whats Working from the American Association of School Administrators.? Write a 250- to 300-word response to the following:? Share any noteworthy reali

Read Using Data to Improve Schools: Whats Working from the American Association of School Administrators.? Write a 250- to 300-word response to the following:? Share any noteworthy reali

Read Using Data to Improve Schools: What’s Working from the American Association of School Administrators. 

Write a 250- to 300-word response to the following: 

Share any noteworthy realizations or “aha moments” you had after reading the document. 

Discuss something presented in the document that you could implement in your professional setting. 

Include any perceived barriers to implementing this idea.

 

Using Data to Improve Schools

Using Data to Improve Schools

What’s Working What’s

Working

Using Data to Improve Schools: What’s Working

ii

This publication was created with editorial assistance from KSA-Plus Communications in Arlington, Va.

This report was produced in whole or part with funds from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under award # R215 U99 0019. Its contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education.

About AASA

The American Association of School Administrators, founded in 1865, is the professional organization for over 14,000 educational leaders across the United States and in other countries. AASA's mission is to support and develop effective school system leaders who are dedicated to the highest quality public education for all children.

iii

Foreword School system leaders are discovering the power of data for promoting school improvement.

With recent advances in technology and the increased demand for assessing student learning,

an unprecedented amount of data are available to educators. School districts across America are

beginning to use the tools necessary to make effective use of the data. In addition to test scores,

many educators are collecting data about citizenship, character, healthy lifestyles, school climate

and parental and community involvement.

One superintendent reflected that “We spend a lot of time on testing but not much time on

what to do with the test results.” As educators shift their focus from simply reporting test results

to using the data to improve instruction, data become essential ingredients in school improve-

ment. Educators know that the effective use of data can measure student progress, evaluate

program and instructional effectiveness, guide curriculum development and resource allocation,

promote accountability and, most importantly, ensure that every child learns.

Using Data to Improve Schools: What’s Working is an easy-to-read guide to using data to drive

school improvement. School system leaders and their staffs can learn from this book how to

build a districtwide culture of inquiry that values the use of data for sound decision-making.

School board members, parents and community members interested in helping improve schools

will find tools for their work as well in this guide. It describes the challenges and the successes of

educators from districts both large and small committed to using data.

We are sure that you will find this guide useful in your ongoing efforts to provide leadership

to your schools and communities.

Paul D. Houston, Ph.D.

Executive Director

American Association of School Administrators

Using Data to Improve Schools: What’s Working

iv

Bill Adams

Superintendent

Salem County Vocational Technical Schools

Woodstown, N.J.

Lance Alwin

Superintendent

Antigo Unified School District

Antigo, Wis.

Mary Barter

Superintendent

Durango School District 9-R

Durango, Colo.

Richard P. Fragale

Superintendent

Central Union High School District

El Centro, Calif.

David E. Gee

Superintendent

Western Suffolk BOCES

Dix Hills, N.Y.

John Lacy

Superintendent

Billings R-IV School District

Billings, Mo.

Peg Portscheller

Executive Director

Colorado Association of School Executives

Englewood, Colo.

Roland Smit

Superintendent

Mobridge School District

Mobridge, S.D.

Linda Dawson

Project Director

National School Boards Foundation

Aspen Group International

Castle Rock, Colo.

Acknowledgments Development Advisory Team

Acknowledgments

v

AASA Project Staff

Judy Seltz

Associate Executive Director

Constituent Relations and Services

Geannie Wells

Director

Center for Accountability Solutions

Mike Parker

Assistant Director

Center for Accountability Solutions

Aleck Johnson

Program Manager

Center for Accountability Solutions

Sarah Wayne

Program Assistant

Center for Accountability Solutions

AASA Executive Committee

Don W. Hooper

President

Superintendent

Fort Bend Independent School District

Sugar Land, Texas

Bill Hill

President-Elect

Superintendent

Deer Valley Unified School District

Phoenix, Ariz.

Benjamin O. Canada

Immediate Past President

Educational Consultant

Atlanta, Ga.

Mary F. Barter

Superintendent

Durango School District 9-R

Durango, Colo.

Barbara F. Erwin

Superintendent

Scottsdale Unified School District 48

Phoenix, Ariz.

Richard P. Fragale

Superintendent

Central Union High School District

El Centro, Calif.

David E. Gee

Superintendent

Western Suffolk BOCES

Dix Hills, N.Y.

Donald L. Kussmaul

Superintendent

East Dubuque Community Unit School District 119

East Dubuque, Ill.

John R. Lawrence

Superintendent

Lincoln County R-III School District

Troy, Mo.

Estanislado Y. Paz

Superintendent

Tucson Unified School District

Tucson, Ariz.

Kay E. Royster

Deputy Chief Executive Officer

Detroit Public School District

Detroit, Mich.

Using Data to Improve Schools: What’s Working Foreword …………………………………………………….. iii

Acknowledgments ………………………………………. iv

Chapter 1: Why Data Matter …………………………………. 1

Chapter 2:

Using Data to Make Smart Decisions …… 13

Chapter 3: Data, Public Engagement and Strategic Communications…………………… 27

Chapter 4: Strategies for Success ………………………….. 37

Appendix A: Accountability Measures ………… 53

Appendix B: Working with the Media ………… 54

Appendix C: Resources ……………………………….. 56

Appendix D: Glossary …………………………………. 60

vi

M any superintendents have a powerful ally on their side: data. Increasingly,

superintendents are using data to make smarter decisions, and they are getting results.

Instead of responding defensively to critics, they are armed with facts and figures that tell a

more complete story and help critics understand the root causes of the challenges schools face.

“Data-driven decision-making is about gathering

data to understand if a school or district is meeting its

purpose and vision,” says Victoria Bernhardt, author

of Data Analysis for Comprehensive Schoolwide

Improvement. (See A Closer Look on page 2.) “If we do

not have a target, we could make decisions that essen-

tially lead to ‘random acts of improvement.’” Instead,

Bernhardt says, superintendents should strive for

“focused acts of improvement,” which occur when

schools are clear about their purpose, about what they expect students to know, and about what

they expect students to be able to do.

In data-driven districts, superintendents work side by side with other administrators, teachers,

principals and parents to ensure all children achieve. Everyone strives toward common goals.

Data provide quantifiable proof, taking the emotion and rancor out of what can be tough calls

for superintendents and school boards (e.g., dismantling a popular but ineffective program or

closing a school). Data also provide the substance for meaningful, ongoing dialogue within the

educational community.

For the past several years, Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait and the Horry County (S.C.)

Public School Board have made data-driven decision-making the cornerstone of school

improvement. “This is now a school system that focuses on results,” Postlewait says. “If I, as the

1

Chapter 1: Why Data Matter • What goals has your school district set for the next three years?

• What data will help judge whether the district is meeting its goals?

• How are superintendents using data they currently collect to improve student achievement over time?

• What additional data must be collected and why?

• In what ways are teachers, principals, district staff and the community involved in data collection and analysis?

If I, as the superintendent, cannot talk about how much learning has occurred, then I’m not achieving what I had hoped to as superintendent.

— Gerrita Postlewait, superintendent,

Horry County (S.C.) Public Schools

superintendent, cannot talk about how much learning has occurred, then I’m not

achieving what I had hoped to as superintendent.” (See Getting Results on page 3.)

Postlewait and other superintendents acknowledge that data were not always at

the forefront of their decision-making. Until recently, they collected data only

because gathering this information was mandated by the state in return for

funding. Rarely were data used to analyze whether children were learning at

grade level, teachers were using sound instructional practices or parents were

pleased with the quality of schools.

“Many school improvement plans are hit or miss,” observes Superintendent

Roland Smit, who heads the 600-student Mobridge (S.D.) School District. “We may

think we should work on a specific area but we don’t always look at the indicators

that may tell us this is, in fact, something we should work on. With the help of

data, we can zero in on our weaknesses.” Data help superintendents like Smit

make decisions with far greater precision and clarity.

Data help district and school leaders craft a sound blueprint with measurable

results for continuously improving schools so decisions are no longer based on

incomplete or biased information. The challenge for superintendents is to know

specifically what they are evaluating. For example, is a particular math program

effective? Which students are showing the great-

est gains and why? How can we target those

who are showing the least improvement?

Superintendents can focus on a specific grade

level or measure overall progress toward meeting

math standards, or they can use data to see how

many students are at levels of proficiency or

excellence in math.

A Closer Look Victoria Bernhardt

Author, Data Analysis for Comprehensive Schoolwide Improvement

For many, data are confusing, even intimidating, but

in your book you say data are logical if we think

about what we need to know and why. Tell us more

about that.

If questions can be created, the data that are

needed to answer the questions are very logical.

For example, for the question “How well are we

Using Data to Improve Schools: What’s Working

2

What is data-driven decision-making? • Collecting data

• Analyzing data

• Reporting data

• Using data for school

improvement

• Communicating

through data

Data-driven decision- making requires a cultural shift in thinking that must be nurtured so all stake- holders are committed to this effort.

Data help: • Measure student progress

• Make sure students don’t fall through the cracks

• Measure program effectiveness

• Assess instructional effectiveness

• Guide curriculum development

• Allocate resources wisely

• Promote accountability

• Report to the community

• Meet state and federal reporting requirements

• Maintain educational focus

• Show trends (but not necessarily solutions)

Data do not help: • If the data are not valid and reliable

• If appropriate questions are not asked after reviewing

the data

• If data analysis is not used for making wise decisions

doing?” one would probably want to

look at student achievement results

on standardized tests and state or dis-

trict assessments to get an idea of

how students in the district are scor-

ing right now. For the question “Are

all students learning?” one might

want to take the general student

achievement analysis to a deeper

level, looking at the distribution of

scores to understand which students

are scoring below mastery, and how

far they are scoring below mastery.

You also write that data can help uncov-

er solutions to some of the toughest chal-

lenges schools face today. How so?

I think data can help us see things

we might not see otherwise. We

might have processes or programs in

operation for years. Once we look at

the data from all angles, we might

find that a program is not helping all

students learn. Data help us get to

the root causes of a problem so we

solve the problem and not just the

symptom.

In what ways can superintendents use

data to improve student achievement?

Student achievement data, for exam-

ple, can help superintendents under-

stand which instructional strategies

are creating the best results and see

where additional training might be

needed. Perceptions data can tell

superintendents about parent, stu-

dent and staff satisfaction with the

learning environment, which also

could reveal areas in need of

improvement. Staff perceptions can

Chapter 1: Why Data Matter

3

In the early 1990s, the Horry County (S.C.) School Board was

granted the authority to raise taxes. School board members,

parents and community members in the racially and economi-

cally diverse school district of 29,000 students wanted to know

the district was spending their taxpayer dollars wisely.

Gerrita Postlewait, who was an instructional specialist with

the district at the time, says the district staff began by re-

examining their expectations. “For example, what kind of

achievement results did we want to see,” Postlewait says.

“What kind of activities did we want? Those questions and

others kick-started the data-driven decision-making process.”

District leaders, principals and teachers learned a lot along

the way, including that at-risk four-year-olds enrolled in the

district’s structured academic prekindergarten program scored

consistently higher in reading, math and writing in first,

second and third grades than students who participated in

preschool programs sponsored by other governmental agen-

cies. In fact, by third grade, 75 percent of the students who

attended the district’s preschool program scored higher than

their counterparts in reading and writing.

After collecting and analyzing the data, the district

expanded the prekindergarten program by an additional 200

children. “As we prepared our budget, we had a way to talk

with our public about why this proposed change was impor-

tant,” Postlewait says. “We could show a reduction in the

amount of time we have to spend with these students in reme-

dial education a little later in grades one, two and three.”

Postlewait became superintendent of the district in 1997.

“It’s chaotic and bone-wearying work, but it’s worth it because

we are now seeing gains in student achievement. This is the

first year we have had results to celebrate.”

Getting Results Horry County, S.C.

Using Data to Improve Schools: What’s Working

4

tell superintendents what is possible. Demographic data can provide valuable information about

meeting the learning needs of students in the future, including: How might the makeup and size

of the school population change? Or, how many new teachers with specialties will be needed in

the near future?

If you are a superintendent using data for the first time, where do you begin? How do you get started?

I would start by understanding what data exist in the district

and see what data I can get easily elsewhere, like the state edu-

cation department or other sources. Undoubtedly, I could get

demographic data, such as enrollment and attendance figures.

I also believe that perceptions data is very important for under-

standing schools and the health of the district. I would admin-

ister online questionnaires to students, staff and parents. Then,

if I were really on the ball with the data analysis, I would set up

a comprehensive database to store and analyze the data at the district, school, classroom,

teacher and student levels.

What sort of leadership must a superintendent provide as more and more teachers, district staff, board

members and others use data?

I believe that superintendents must create a safe environment for data-driven decision-making.

Superintendents must lead, model and encourage staffs to use different types of data and exam-

ine the numbers systematically to avoid knee-jerk reactions to single, independent pieces of

data. It will require training and trust so that every staff member can have access to, and look at,

data on an ongoing basis. It requires a vision that is truly shared, so staff members are all contin-

uously improving in the same direction.

Getting Started One of the biggest challenges for any district implementing data-driven decision-making is

knowing where to begin. Often, there are so many data to choose from that the process can be

overwhelming for district staff, teachers and principals. The best advice is to start with the

basics. Too often, school administrators and staff collect data without first figuring out what it is

they need to know.

“We recommend not fishing blindly as you review data,” says Mike Parker, assistant director

of the Center for Accountability Solutions at the American Association of School Administrators

(AASA). “If you don’t have a purpose in mind, it’s easy to get off track.”

A district should begin data collection by defining what it wants to know. Is the strategic

plan the district put in place three years ago improving student performance? Why are high

school freshmen in your district garnering low grades in English? Did the district make good on

its promise to the community that test scores would increase 5 percent over last year’s scores?

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

— James Baldwin,

author

Chapter 1: Why Data Matter

5

In Data Analysis for Comprehensive Schoolwide Improvement, Bernhardt lists seven questions to

help focus the early stages of data-driven decision-making:

• What is the purpose of the school or district?

• What do you expect students to know and be able to do by the time they leave school?

(Standards)

• What do you expect students to know and be able to do by the end of each year?

(Benchmarks)

• How well will students be able to do what they want to do with the knowledge and

skills they acquire by the time they leave school? (Performance)

• Do you know why you are getting the results you get?

• What would your school and educational processes look like if your school were

achieving its purpose, goals and expectations for student learning?

• How do you want to use the data you will gather?

Chapter 2 takes a closer look at different types of data that can help answer these

questions. Of course, the best questions are the ones superintendents, principals, teachers and

school board members develop together.

Making decisions based on data is a little like being a detective. Good data analysis requires

asking lots of questions, uncovering more and more information and revisiting hypotheses

along the way until a complete picture — supported by the facts — unfolds.

Challenging Assumptions Data-driven school improvement requires

administrators to challenge their own assump-

tions. Almost every district has common

beliefs about a school or groups of students.

One school may be known for its nationally

ranked reading program. Another may be clos-

ing the achievement gap among different

groups of students. But are these schools really

accomplishing what they think they are? How

do they know for sure?

Data help district leaders determine

whether their perceptions match reality.

Running a longitudinal analysis, for example,

will show whether a reading program is

You use data to inform the doctor of the progress of the patient. You determine whether the patient is progressing in a good direction — or is there additional assistance that the patient needs? That analogy works for me, because that’s really what you’re asking for: You want data that are more diagnostic, that permit you to monitor progress on a regular basis and that provide you with the student’s vital signs of learning.

— James Parsley, superintendent,

Vancouver (Wash.) School District

Using Data to Improve Schools: What’s Working

6

sustaining its impact over time. Disaggregating data by different student popula-

tions will show which students are excelling and which are falling behind. These

clues begin to form a picture of what is really happening in schools.

In the rural community of Antigo, Wis., 90 miles northwest of Green Bay, data

helped Superintendent Lance Alwin bridge the divide between educators and fami-

lies that homeschool their children. The work began when the Antigo Unified

School District reviewed progress toward its goals, one of which was to become “an

inclusive educational community.”

“One of the questions that I asked was why we weren’t providing services to

families of homeschoolers,” says Alwin. “The response was that homeschoolers are

on the religious fringes. They want to do their own thing and they don’t like what

we have to offer.”

It was a stand off, Alwin recalls. But if the district truly was to be an inclusive

community, it would have to tackle this issue head-on.

Data about the district’s homeschool population was collected and analyzed. The

district surveyed its homeschool population, asking parents why they home-

schooled their children.

What the district learned challenged long-held perceptions. First, data revealed

the number of families homeschooling their children was much higher than origi-

nally thought. The data also showed that religion was not the number one reason

parents homeschooled their children. Instead, parents said they felt they could do a

better job than the public schools. District leaders also were surprised to learn that

80 percent of homeschool families were interested in accessing instructional

resources provided by the district, as long as no strings were attached.

In response, district leaders created a unique charter school designed to meet the

needs of homeschool families based on the information and data they had gath-

ered. The school opened during the 1997–98 school year with four students. In

2000–01, 62 children enrolled in the school. “We’ve had to turn students away,”

says Alwin. “Now, we’re getting calls from homeschool families several counties

away because they have heard that this school district is willing to work with

them.”

The district is meeting its goal of becoming more inclusive. During the 1997–98

school year, 178 children who were eligible to attend the schools in the Antigo

Unified School District were homeschooled.

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