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Data Is Making a Difference
In These Schools

Many schools are using collected data to drive change. Test scores are analyzed and used to lead curriculum improvement. Survey instruments provide feedback from students, staff, parents, and the community that lead to change too. And data can be used to group students and to assign teachers with proven skills to teach specific student groups. Those are just a few of the ways in which Education Worlds Principal Files principals are using data to lead their schools to success.

Image Data has always been a force in the business world. Data related to sales and marketing, demographics, and production costs are just a few examples of the numbers that, once analyzed, drive daily business decisions and future projections. But, while data has long been a cornerstone of business, it is only in recent years that school leaders have adopted the practice of using numbers to drive school change and turn out an improved end-product -- students prepared to lead our world in the 21st century.

Today, almost every school administrator is using data as a guiding force. Daily decisions about curriculum, student grouping, and almost any other facet of school life have data at their foundation. We analyze data to determine everything from curricular issues to eighth grade dance themes and the number of pep assemblies we should hold, principal Jim DeGenova told Education World. Even our schools code of conduct is adjusted according to the data we collect about student infractions during the course of the school year.

At DeGenovas school, Reed Middle School in Hubbard, Ohio, the building leadership team and the entire staff have been trained in the Baldridge Criteria, which provides a framework for assessing performance in a wide variety of key indicators of school success. Everything we do is charted, discussed, and evaluated, he said.The information is used to set new direction.

We also use data to assist in building staff consensus, added DeGenova.Even our non-certificated staff and student council are being instructed in use of graphic tools to gather data and interpret that data. This method takes the I feel that it is good out of the equation and replaces it with objective data that indicates the degree of goodness.


At Saturn Elementary School in Cocoa, Florida, every decision we make is based on data, principal Michael Miller told Education World. He and his staff have painstakingly reviewed the last several years of FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) scores. We know the trends throughout our building. We know the areas in which we are doing great, and we now what areas we need to work on, Miller added.

The staff at Saturn has looked at school-wide needs, and each teacher has studied the last two years of data to see where their individual strengths and weaknesses are, said Miller. Where weaknesses are uncovered, staff members search for strategies to help them remedy those weaknesses.

Sometimes the numbers even suggest that staff assignments should be juggled to benefit students. I had two fifth grade teachers, Miller explained. Scores revealed that one was very strong in teaching reading and the other was very strong in math.This year they are teaming and teaching their strengths to both classes.

We meet individually and in teams on a monthly basis to discuss FCAT scores from the previous year, added Miller. We examine scores by gender, by free and reduced lunch, by ethnic background We use all that data to target areas where additional staff development is needed and where we need to purchase additional materials.

By doing this we raised our school grade from a C to within 5 points of an A, Miller added.We are very proud to be a school with 67 percent free- and reduced-lunch students that has earned a school grade of B.

Data has definitely made a difference for us, Miller concluded. Without data you have no focus. You are just guessing what you think will happen.

Sixty miles up route 95, in Port Orange, principal Les Potter uses the FCAT tests to set school-wide goals each year at Silver Sands Middle School. Students who get low scores also get extra help, such as intensive reading classes, after-school tutoring, and other special programs, said Potter.

We are very, very data driven, added Potter. I believe, in this age of accountability, that is true of most schools in our country.


In Bermuda, data drives many decisions made by principal Gail Graham at Whitney Institute Middle School. We use the Terra Nova tests of reading, language arts, and mathematics at all three grade levels in our school every year, she told Education World. The results of those tests are used to craft our School Improvement Plan objectives, which we must submit to the ministry of education every October.

The requirements for those plans are very specific, explained Graham.School objectives in the three subject areas state the improvement expected in the percentile ranking of each group of students. Content objectives specify the expected improvement in various sections of the tests. The staff, working in teams, determines the action steps we will implement to achieve those objectives.

Its my job to ensure that the plan remains at the forefront of any teaching and learning decisions we make, said Graham, adding that schools and principals are held accountable for achieving the stated goals when the test results become available each September.

A climate survey is also conducted every year or two at Whitney, said Graham. I have developed my own questionnaire, which addresses all areas of the school from the physical plant to the friendliness of the office staff and includes questions about subjects offered, work done in classes, and other opportunities offered at the school.I use the data from those surveys to make changes, initiate new ideas, or sometimes to fight to keep things as they are.

Graham cited a recent attempt by the education ministry to scale back encore subject offerings in favor of increasing time spent on core subjects such as language arts and math. (Encore subjects include art, music, design technology, family studies, dance, business studies, and foreign language -- to name just a handful.) I surveyed all students, all staff, and as many parents as I could get responses from -- and the overwhelming response was to keep things the way they were, she said. That data, as well as our better-than-average Terra Nova results, enabled us to prevent this draconian measure at least for the short term.


At Southdown Elementary School in Houma, Louisiana, principal Betty Peltier and her staff use standard score charts, which indicate where students should be at the end of each grade level, to ensure that all students make documented progress. Our school is one with a high percentage of students who come to school functioning below what is expected, Peltier said.Our goal is to accomplish a year's growth plus for each student so that in a minimum of years we catch up students who lag behind.

Each spring we chart student growth against the expected point growth for that grade, added Peltier. The plus results have been very encouraging.


Today, all principals must deal with data. The Bush administrations No Child Left Behind Act mandates that schools and their students pass proficiency tests at 4th, 6th, and 10th grade levels.

In Ohio, they have just given us the first draft of the new Ohio graduation test, principal Tony Pallija told Education World. Eighth graders will be the first class to have to pass the test to receive their diplomas.

Pallijas staff at Canton Hoover High School in North Canton, Ohio, will be monitoring all test results, analyzing them closely, and adjusting instruction. But they are not alone. Educators everywhere are examining data like never before, Pallija added, because everybody -- students, staff, and schools -- is being watched and graded.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World

Originally published 10/12/2004
Last updated 10/29/2008