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To Improve Rigor, Manage Data Better

Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present these tips from Rigor in Your School: A Toolkit for Leaders, by Ronald Williamson and Barbara R. Blackburn. This article identifies four necessary steps to effectively manage data in order to effect a positive change in your school or district.

A critical aspect of school reform for today’s schools is the ability to effectively manage data. Leaders and teachers are often overwhelmed with the sheer amount of data they have. Many of the schools we work with are unsure how to best use the information.

First, let’s clarify what we mean by data. Data is all the information you have, or might collect, that you can use to support your efforts to make your school more rigorous. When used correctly, data can be an important tool to guide the decision-making process, measure progress and monitor accountability.

Keep in mind that data is more than test scores. Although scores are one type of data, we will discuss other types, including some new forms you may not use. This doesn’t mean you must collect additional data, but you may find that you need alternative data to help you improve rigor in your school. Choose the tools that best suit your needs.

Step 1: Be Clear About What You Want to Know
Being clear about what you want to know will help you clarify the data you want to collect and analyze. We suggest that rather than just saying, “We want to increase rigor,” you divide the task into smaller, more manageable chunks. For example, you might want to begin with a focus on one part of rigor (e.g., each student is expected to learn at high levels).

Possible Focus Areas: Expectations for Student Learning; Support for Student Learning; Demonstration of Student Learning; Overall Culture of School Related to Rigor

Step 2: Decide How to Collect Data
After you’ve determined a focus area, you will want to think about the data you already have available. Most schools routinely gather data. Think about what you already have and how it might be used to guide your work.

Examples of frequently available data:

  • Student grades or test scores
  • Student, parent and staff surveys
  • School climate data
  • Report of alignment with state or national standards

Step 3: Analyze the Data
Be sure to involve your school improvement team or other shared governance group in the process. We’ve always found it helps to have people with many different points of view look at data.

Always keep an open mind, rather than pre-determining the results. Otherwise, you may not see the full picture. First, analyze the information provided by each data source.

Step 4: Set Priorities and Goals
The fourth step is to work with your school improvement team or other collaborative group to determine priorities based on your area of focus and the data analysis. Once you determine your priorities, goals, or area of focus, study and select strategies that will allow you to address the area of focus. This is a pivotal point. Too often, we gather and analyze data, set goals, but then do not use that information to make decisions on an ongoing basis.

First, note the data sources you used. Next, identify the area for potential growth, such as incorporating more activities in which each student is required to demonstrate learning. Third, design a specific way to track success. How will everyone know if they are making progress toward the goal? What does success look like? Finally, detail the specific action steps that are needed to accomplish the goal.

Final Thoughts and Action Planning
Using data to guide your efforts to improve the rigor of your school is important, but be cautious about simply gathering data. The most important activity is conducting a thoughtful analysis of the data so it can guide selection of school improvement strategies. The most successful leaders are those who routinely use data to guide their work. They recognize the importance of using a balanced set of data sources and student achievement scores, as well as information about instructional practices and student and family perceptions. They are comfortable with data and recognize the power of data to help improve their school. Once you've analyzed your data, spell out next steps in an action plan.


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