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Published:May 17th, 2008 10:17 EST
Data-Driven Decision Making for Educational Improvement

Data-Driven Decision Making for Educational Improvement

By Glenn Brandon Burke (Mentor/Speaker)

Until recently, educational data was not fast enough in turning around results to make legitimate comparisons. Today, recent advances in information technology have made possible and practical the widespread use of data for decision-making at every level of the system -- from students and teachers to parents, administrators, and community partners. Furthermore, a new generation of software and Web-based products designed to integrate data into the core elements of teaching and learning do well for closing the accountability loop between standards, classroom practice, and learning outcomes.

Today`s taxpayers are demanding accountability of their schools, looking for proof in the numbers. The Education Commission of the States reports that 41 states require schools to report their assessment scores to the public, and many states require the reporting of additional indicators, including dropout rates, student attendance, and expenditures (Education Commission of the States, 2000). Comparative data across schools and districts make it easier to discern the practices and policies that work from those that do not. Now that such information is available, there is no going back to decision-making styles that rely strictly on gut feelings.

Cutting-edge educators across the nation are embracing performance data as a useful means for directing school improvement. The ability to track individual student performance, aggregate and disaggregate data easily, and use sophisticated and high-speed data-collection systems present a new host of options for using and interpreting data.

Additional research and data does not always translate directly into better decisions. Actually, too much information can be as much of a disservice as too little, if it is not used correctly. Systematic use of data to improve teaching and learning requires leadership, training, and the development of a culture of use. According author Mike Schmoker, Results: The Key to Continuous Improvement (schmoker, 2006), puts it, schools need to move away from "continually adopting innovations" and instead "collectively focus on goals and regularly measure the impact of the methods."

Superior-performing schools and districts use data to identify strengths and weaknesses in student, teacher, and school performance. They track and share the results of various interventions in order to specifically identify successful strategies for achieving goals. Proven strategies can then be replicated in other schools and other subject areas. School leaders can use data to identify high performing schools with similar student populations and then find out what methods were used so successfully.

More and more districts are investing in hardware and software programs that automate data collection, enable electronic communication, and facilitate databased decision-making. Staff dedicated to information technology work with curriculum, instruction, and assessment professionals to determine the types of data to collect, and with teachers and principals to make data-collection methods as convenient as possible.

Test scores are useful, but they do not tell the entire story. Data-driven decision-making begins with a line of inquiry about the facts. Educators can verify or disprove intuitions about why certain student`s score lower on reading tests than others, for example "each school and district must identify performance indicators and the types of data to collect. The most relevant information will vary across schools and districts, depending on their unique goals and challenges. The types of data include: Test scores (standardized tests, SAT and ACT scores), graduation rates, grade point averages, attendance, discipline, demographics (gender, ethnicity, language proficiency, socioeconomic data), school readiness, parental involvement, and perceptions and beliefs

Student information tracking systems require coordination at many levels as well as an immense amount of staff development. All staff members must be trained in properly utilizing the new hardware, software, and data on new programs Troubleshooting, tutoring, and technical assistance is an ongoing part of any rollout of a program designed to integrate standards with curriculum, resources, test generation, scoring, and student mastery. It takes a lot of individual tutoring and proper communication between the assessment, and technical and training departments.

I thoroughly agree that the data-driven decision-making can be successful if the necessary required tools are utilized correctly. The quote in paragraph three by Mike Schmoker hit the nail directly on the head. We must concentrate over a five-year period, at a minimum, on specific goals. If we continue to test " new theories and ideas before first following through for a length of time, we will never find a correct way to improve.

In addition to data driven decision-making, I have another theory based on my five-year study (2000 " 2005) with 28 classes on the post-secondary level as to what it takes to improve student retention, class work and tests scores. I believe my proven conclusion will work with any grade level.

I taught the most-feared course in the educational system " Communication 101 (AKA: Public Speaking). In my study, I took (subject 1) 14 classes and made learning fun, taught with passion, true caring (identifying troubled students and working with them one-on-one), motivation, inspiration, and with firm control of the class, thus gaining the students respect. With the other (subject 2) 14, I simply taught by going through the motions.

Subject 1 results: Never exceeded an 8% drop-rate. 100% improved class work. And 100% pass rate on tests (mid term and final exam).

Subject 2 results: 20% - 32% drop-rate. 80% improved class work. And 80% pass rate on tests (mid term and final exam).

In addition to data driven decision-making to improve schools, if teachers have passion for what they teach, truly show they care, is motivational, inspirational, and has respect of their students, the students WILL rise to the occasion and succeed.         

Sadly, there are far too many teachers whom, for whatever reason (available for another paper or discussion), simply go through the motions when teaching and cannot reach the students.  For information on

Glenn BrandonBurke:                                                                                  http:/

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