Services for Schools, Educators, and Families

Things You MUST Think About: Data-Informed Decision-Making


This is the second in a promised gloss on each of the 11 THINGS INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS MUST BE THINKING ABOUT featured in my previous post. (I recap the entire list below the body of this post.)

#2. Data-informed decision-making

It’s something schools will all have to do, right there in the small and not-so-small print of every independent school accreditation protocol, starting right now. If you haven’t made an effort to gather and organize data on student performance—standardized test scores are the obvious place to start, but there are some new and interesting instruments like the College & Work Readiness Assessment (see also post # 4 in this series) that can extend the range of your analysis—it’s worth spending some time to set up, at the very least, a comprehensive database.

Since most schools aren’t fortunate enough to have data or statistics gurus on staff, they should begin to consider the kinds of intellectual and technical resources they might need to make sensible use of student data. Local universities can help, perhaps—look for either educational psychometricians or business faculty with experience on the quantitative side of human relations. But find the help you need to make sense of what you have and to understand both what you can learn and what you will need to know. Ignoring the imperative will not make it go away.

The National Association of Independent Schools and a few other professional organizations have been working on “dashboards” (here’s an example) that use quantitative information to guide schools toward sustainable practices (not just Green, but financial, demographic, global, and of course programmatic). Have someone in your school become familiar with these and consider how they could be helpful in both strategic and day-to-day planning.

So, who is thinking about data-informed decision-making at your school?

The 11 Things:

  1. Design Thinking. What-ing? DONE
  2. Data-informed decision-making DONE
  3. Collaborative learning and (related issue) project design
  4. Smart assessment of student learning
  5. Social media—for advancement
  6. Social media—in the classroom
  7. New directions for your library
  8. Online learning
  9. Strategic professional development learning
  10. Shorter horizons for strategic thinking
  11. Being Green
  1. You said a mouthful, brother! Thank you!

    I think the hard part of doing this for independent school folks is sheer inexperience and lack of expertise. We know how to deal with our “traditional” kinds of data–college lists, AP scores, even ERB scores–in ways that let us accentuate the positive and downplay the negative, but we haven’t needed to do more comprehensive analysis or adopt more sophisticated measurement tools, at least until now. And, who among us has an assessment data guru in house who can help create understandings, explore contexts, and develop action plans?

    All our best work with Grant Wiggins or Project Zero didn’t prepare us for this, and we can’t (or maybe, as you imply, won’t) try to get much help from our public school counterparts until we begin to discern that some of the stuff they have been doing–despite the political abuses to which they have so often been subjected in the NCLB “assessment” process–is at least analogous to things we might want to know about our own work.

    But we need to get on this right away if we are going to do the raw learning that is necessary to begin doing the actual work. And then we need to start gathering the data. Steep learning curve, but rewards at the top–like so many things.

  2. Peter:
    Thanks for this piece, and for your leadership on and contributions to this issue in our association. Last week I spent two days with 150 educators, 99% of them public school folks, in a new organization called edleader21. I think this group was one of the most thoughtful and intentional group of forward-thinking educators I have had the fortune to be among, and although the topics ranged widely, what struck me was how obsessed everyone in this room was on the importance of effective and meaningful assessment. These folks cared deeply about the learning they wanted for their students, and they understand that so much of what we can do as educational leaders to advance this learning begins and ends with the right kinds of measurement and data collection, analysis, and deployment.
    Sadly, I think this is a contrast to meetings I have with my fellow independent school educators, among whom I simply don’t hear nearly so much discussion of assessment, measurement, and data for driving instructional improvement.
    Keep up the great work.