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Peek's Perspective

Using Data to
Define Your Problems


When do you know you are ready to begin applying for grants?

Unfortunately, it is not enough just to know that you need grant money. In fact, it is not enough just to identify the problems or needs that you have. To actually get grant money, you have to go one step farther and identify the underlying causes of your problems. You need hard data to do that. Then you can develop a plan of attack and develop a budget to carry out that plan. Once that is done, you are ready to apply for the grant money you need.

[content block] Let me give you an example of what I mean. When I became a principal at Pittsburg Middle School in the northeast part of Texas, we knew we had a reading problem. How did we know? For one thing, only around 50 percent of our students passed the state reading assessment. Even fewer than that passed the math assessment.

However, when we reviewed the math results, it was fairly evident that the problem was not necessarily due to weak math skills. The Texas math assessment at that time consisted totally of stated problems -- what you might refer to in your area as story problems, reading problems, or word problems. That's right, 100 percent! Our students could not read and comprehend well enough to understand which computations to use to properly answer the questions.

Although we did alter our math program, our main plan of attack was to raise the reading levels of our students as quickly as we could. We knew that if our students could comprehend what they read, their test scores would go up across the board.

We went a step farther using the data and found that our disadvantaged students (identified by free/reduced lunch counts) should be our focus. Disadvantaged students made up about 50 percent of our middle school population, but almost none of them had passed the state assessment test in either math or reading.

We wrote grants for thousands and thousands of dollars. We partnered with businesses to get the products we needed to raise those reading scores. We worked hard to carry our plan forward.

Two years later, having targeted the reading levels of our disadvantaged students with programs that we knew would be successful, more than 90 percent of our students passed both their reading and math assessment tests.

We used hard data to get that grant money. That data proved we had a reading problem, and that data showed the underlying causes of the problem. It was that hard data that showed we had studied the problem, knew its causes, and had a plan, including a budget, to solve it.

Granting agencies don't want to give handouts. They don't want to give charity funds. They want to help you solve your problems. By providing sufficient data when you write your grant applications, you show that you've done your homework and that you're ready to put the grantor's money to good use in attacking the problems you have identified.

What types of data are most commonly used to enhance grant applications? The following will give you an idea of where to begin, depending on the type of grant money you need:

  • Results of standardized test disaggregated (grade, subject, subgroups, etc.)
  • Results of state testing disaggregated
  • Student demographics (age, economic status, grade, gender, race, etc.)
  • Disciplinary referrals
  • Attendance rates
  • Numbers of students in special programs (ESL, special ed., vocational, etc.)
  • Dropout rates
  • SAT/ACT participation/results
  • Graduation rates
  • Numbers of students in advanced courses
  • Failure rates
  • Percent of students going into higher education

    Use this data in your grant application to prove your needs and to show that you have an understanding of the underlying causes of your problems. Your chances of being awarded grant money go up tremendously when you use data to enhance your application.

    It's time to begin applying for grants when you have all your data gathered and analyzed.

    Article by Don Peek
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2009 Education World

    Originally published 02/05/2009