Monday, August 1, 2011

What Does The Data Tells US

I am coming to the end of an extended data-driven project. For the past two weeks I have been engaged in examining student performance at the high school where I am a supervisor of instruction. From results on standardized exams to final grades to cumulative discipline reports, data was collected, organized into tables and compared to outcomes from previous years. Results were examined across seven subgroups that were delineated by gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and special education.

Motivation for this project stemmed from the high school’s commitment to collect and analyze a consistent set of data points. As part of the accreditation process for the Commission on Secondary Schools, the high school agreed to examine academic performance and investigate stakeholder feelings about the climate and culture in the building. Target goals for both academics and climate were established at the start of the accreditation process with the hope of being achieved by 2013. Over the span of seven years a consistent positive trend is supposed to develop. In short, a massive amount of data has been and will be collected over the seven-year span.

At first, the amount of data that could be analyzed is imposing. Consider data that is collected in regards to the focus on academic performance. We are accruing information on final grades, HSPA and S-Test results and outcomes on SATs and ACTs. Grades alone could grab the attention of our faculty for a significant period of time. The number of A’s, B’s, D’s and F’s are collected across all academic disciplines and all levels offered at the school. Final grades are broken down across seven subgroups (Male, Female, Asian, Black, Hispanic, White, LEP, Economically Disadvantaged and Disability). An analysis of grades could spark countless conversations about instruction and the types of experiences being offered to students.

Moving beyond the mountain of evidence, an analysis of the data could instigate genuine exchanges between educators our school and specifically, what is working, what is not and what changes need to transpire to ensure that the needs of all students are being met. However, I have found throughout my career in education that data about students and or a school is provided a cursory examination. Each academic calendar generates a wealth of information that could be used to make informed decisions about programs, educational initiatives, reforms or the redesign of a school. Data also compels educators to face a certain reality and spend time reflecting on their craft. How many teachers are constantly surveying students or comparing outcomes from year to the next? Outside of anecdotal information or gut instinct, what evidence suggests that you are connecting with students and creating a class where interests can flourish and needs are met?

In moving forward, it will be a personal responsibility to see that this data is shared with the staff and that public forums are created to facilitate dialog between the professional staff. Additionally, a responsibility exists to help teachers take an inventory of their class and infuse results into our conversations about teaching and learning. Without following through in either measure, a crucial step is omitted from the decision-making process. Intentions may be heartfelt and have the “best interests” of students in mind, but informed decisions have to also include the examination of hard evidence.