School administrators and educators who learn how to sift through data for school improvement gain a beneficial skill that schools value. The right data makes it easier to enlist decision-maker buy-in and support. Educators typically find it difficult to argue against data-driven conclusions.
“When it comes to data, effective principals try to draw the most from statistics and evidence, having ‘learned to ask useful questions’ of the information, to display it in ways that tell ‘compelling stories’ and to use it to promote ‘collaborative inquiry among teachers,'” states “Five Key Responsibilities — The School Principal as Leader.” “Effective leaders view data as a means not only to pinpoint problems but also to understand their nature and causes.”
How Data Helps Improve Education
Despite the bad rap standardized testing receives, data from testing can show where students stand. Educators can use the information from test results to refine lesson plans. For instance, a school principal created a data board complete with a color-coded trajectory representing whether students were significantly below grade level, below grade level, or at grade level to help staff take ownership of each student’s performance. A veteran teacher who initially opposed the approach changed her mind once she saw the results and acknowledged the principal’s contribution to fixing the problem. This example serves to illustrate the role of data in helping identify what’s working and what isn’t.
“Five Key Responsibilities — The School Principal as Leader” gives an example of how data can make a difference in improving schools. Tenth grade students at a Florida school had low scores on persuasive essays, which required students to make a credible argument. The teachers researched the problem and concluded that student reluctance to take a strong stance lay at the root. The staff made changes by integrating examples of effective persuasive essays in lessons.
In this case, the principal trusted the teachers to find an answer, and the teachers did the legwork because they knew the curriculum. The principal then shared the results of this experiment with other departments so they could replicate the success of the pilot.
Data insights can affect allocation and programs. For example, district leaders in Horry County, South Carolina, learned that at-risk four-year-olds in an at-risk program consistently scored higher in reading, math and writing in first through third grades. They outperformed students in other preschool programs. As a result, the district expanded the pre-K program to add 200 students.
As the data revealed eventual savings for the district, the impact of expansion on the budget was temporary. Because the pre-K program helped these students succeed in later grades, they did not need remediation, which would have cost time and money.
Why Data Literacy Is Critical
The world is drowning in data. And anyone can post false or inaccurate information online. The need for educators to have a solid foundation in how to collect the right data, analyze it and act on it is therefore more critical today than ever before.
Schools often spend a great deal of effort on testing but do nothing with the results, which may help explain why standardized testing has a poor reputation.
Educators can use data to do more than measure and aid student progress. They can also use it to:
- Assess programs.
- Evaluate instructional effectiveness.
- Encourage accountability.
- Verify compliance with state and federal requirements.
- Identify trends.
- Guide curriculum development.
- Support resource allocation.
Data is most useful when it helps educators make decisions that benefit student learning.
Where Can You Learn How to Harness Data in Education?
You may find MS Ed. programs that require a statistics course. “However, the leadership preparation programs at many universities contain traditional statistics courses that fail to address data collected from real classrooms or to focus on student assessment, school attendance, dropout rates, college entrance test results and program evaluation,” Gene Bottoms writes in “What School Principals Need to Know about Curriculum and Instruction.”
When researching MS Ed. programs, be sure to check what the school offers in the areas of research and data analysis, as these are critical skills for today’s school administrators.
For example, the MS Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction online program from Northwest Missouri State University offers courses such as Data Literacy and Assessment for Schools. Program candidates learn how to find, evaluate, analyze and prioritize data sources to improve learning outcomes for students. Candidates apply what they learn to the real world through 21 hours of field experience. They also complete a project that attests to their expertise in data literacy.
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