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Ask Dr. Lynch: Using Data to Guide School Reform Efforts

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University. Dr. Lynch provides expert advice on everything from classroom management to differentiated instruction. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

Dr. Matthew Lynch

This week, reader Antonio J. asks:

I am a new principal who is being asked to lead a major school reform using data as a guide. I have participated in this type of reform effort before as teacher, but I played a very small part. Any thoughts on how I can use data to lead this major reform effort?

ANSWER:

Antonio, something tells me that you will be OK. Here is my advice: Student performance depends on the existence of a modern, well-organized system at district level. Any model focused on increasing the academic performance of students must involve every segment of the district, from the custodians to the school board.

Most districts know exactly what their students need, and their district-wide curriculum and reform should reflect those needs. The district needs to make sure the developed curriculum aligns with the standards set by national and state entities.

Districts that show continuous positive results often base their decisions on data alone, as opposed to relying on observations and data together. Schools should regularly evaluate the pros and cons of instructional programs and realize that standardized tests should make up only a piece of the assessment puzzle, not the entirety. Continuously monitoring the progress of the school’s student body will allow the task force to alter the reform plan as needed.

Successful schools also institute checks and balances to ensure the decision-making process is fairly distributed among a variety of reform participants. Superintendents must ensure that improvement efforts are carried out in a positive manner and meet the needs of students. The team leader’s job is to ensure that teachers have the tools needed to foster the academic performance of students.

Districts all over the country recognize accountability as the key to the school improvement process. Everyone is expected to give his or her best effort, or face the consequences. To ensure that staff and faculty members are able to perform at optimal levels, the school district must provide them with high-quality professional development.

Successfully implementing and sustaining school reform is possible. It may not be easy, but with a big effort, the use of all resources, and the expertise of professionals, school reform can be successful. The level of success a school is able to achieve will be based on its unique situation. Whatever the obstacles, the leaders’ decisions need to be resolute to foster academic achievement.

In order to complete the process of school reform, restructuring efforts must be monitored and measured. The process of evaluation can be completed in-house, or the leader can hire outside consultants to perform the task. If the task force is willing to evaluate the success of the school’s reform, they must first develop a plan for evaluation

The team’s evaluation plan should have been created before the reform was started. Performance goals that were created at the beginning of the process should be used to guide the evaluation process. The team will need to decide who will collect, study and interpret the data. In order to avoid biased results, it may be in the best interest of the school to hire an outside consultant to provide a more objective assessment of the reform efforts. The team will also use the results to determine whether reform efforts were effective.

The results may indicate that the reform was not successful. In this case, the best solution is to build upon small successes and learn from mistakes. Another plan could then be put in place, or the unsuccessful reform strategy changed to better suit the needs of the school. School restructuring is a long-term process, occurring on a continuous cycle. Keep in mind that not every restructuring effort bears fruit. Even the best schools have to continue to work on the restructuring process.

 

About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.


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