13 Feb

Data Usage that Goes Beyond Teachers

So often, when we hear about data-driven solutions, we automatically think of teachers monitoring student learning to help alter and personalize classroom instruction. Certainly it is a wonderful way to use data, but it isn’t the only way.

In the February 6th edition of Education Week, writer Sarah Sparks addressed the issues with the lack of data concerning school principals nationwide. According to Sparks, the absence of information surrounding the number of licenses awarded each year, the post-training employment rate of licensed principals, and most importantly principal preparedness, is an issue that is plaguing almost all of the 50 states. School improvement is highly unlikely to occur with out a strong principal with a “can-do” attitude and essential supports that take root in schools.

As stated in the Sparks article, much of the talk concerning the issues with our education system has been focused solely on teacher “effectiveness and preparedness.” But we forget that it is the principal’s job as an effective school leader to recruit, select, support, and assess teachers, while using data-driven solutions to develop a positive school culture, according to the Data-Quality Campaign (as outlined by Sparks). Without strong school leaders, these tasks are not properly accomplished, leaving teachers without a focused school vision.

So how can we ensure that principals are equipped with the necessary tools to properly lead our schools? First, we must utilize the effective use of data to gain a better understanding of what makes an effective leader.

Principals must have a clear vision for how to make data part of an ongoing cycle of instructional improvement. Principals need to be equipped with the necessary instructional leadership competency skills to help teachers adopt a systematic process for using data in order to bring evidence to bear on their instructional decisions and improve their ability students’ learning needs by

  1. Collecting and preparing a variety of data about student learning.
  2. Interpreting data and developing hypotheses about how to improve student learning.
  3. Modifying instruction to test hypotheses and increase students’ learning achievement.

Principals should understand how teachers should provide students with explicit instruction on using achievement data regularly to monitor their own performance and establish their goals for personalizing learning by

  1. Explaining expectations and assessment criteria.
  2. Providing feedback to student that is timely, specific, well formatted, and constructive.
  3. Providing tools that help student learning from feedback.
  4. Teachers should use students’ data analyses to guide instructional changes.

Principals must establish a clear vision for school-wide data use ensure that data-based decisions are made frequently, consistently, and appropriately by

  1. Establishing a school-wide data team that sets the tone for ongoing data use.
  2. Define critical teaching and learning concepts related to education and data use in particular.
  3. Develop a written plan that articulates activities, roles, and responsibilities.
  4. Providing ongoing data leadership to provide guidance on using data to support the school’s vision.

Principals should provide supports that foster a data-driven culture within schools that include

  1. Designating a school-based facilitator who meets with teacher teams to discuss data use.
  2. Dedicating structured time for staff collaboration.
  3. Providing ongoing blended embedded professional development tailored to individual classroom teachers instructional needs by considering the personalized needs of their students.

Finally, principals need to prioritize financial, human, technology, and resources to develop safeguards to ensure data are timely, relevant, and useful to educators by

  1. Involving a variety of stakeholders in selecting data-systems, technologies, and resources.
  2. Clearly articulate systems, technologies and resources relative to user needs.

A compilation of multiple measurable factors such as student learning outcomes and growth, attendance rates, drop out rates, high school graduation rates, principal training, and collaborative professional blended learning experiences will help us narrow down what professional competencies a needed for more successful school leaders. Next, we must use that data to assess where our school principals currently stand. Comparing this data against our current school principals will highlight where they soar, and where they can improve. Once that is understood, only then will we be able to raise the bar and give our principals high, but tangible goals. With these goals in place, rising principal “preparedness and effectiveness” will lead to more effective teacher instruction and accelerate student learning outcome achievement.
To attract and keep the best school leaders states and districts should draw on the following underutilized approaches to preparing them for the job and creating the right incentives and conditions to support their success:

  • Provide more selective competency-based training for principals to include a system with multiple measures data and feedback loops to determine the effectiveness in preparing transformative leaders whose goal is to significantly improve teaching and learning as well as turning around failing schools.
  • Be aware of state policies that can affect principal training.
  • Encourage school districts to better execute their own “consumer” power to influence the training of school leaders they will eventually hire.
  • Provide more and improved blended mentoring opportunities for new principals once they’re hired.
  • Provide and/or enhance peer and district support for both novice and veteran principals.

The need for data when evaluating our nation’s school leaders is essential and long overdue. Data provides us with crucial information that helps us make the most effective decisions for our schools and students. If we have the resources, why not use data to better understand what we need from our principals, because without the best possible leaders, how are our students supposed to be prepared with the college and career readiness skills to successful in a global knowledge economy. In order to prepare and develop effective school leaders we must make the necessary intensive, consistent investments in data-driven teachers and school leader blended embedded professional development.

Read the article here, and post your opinion on our comments page. Do you think there is a need for data concerning our school principals? If so, what kinds of information should we be focusing on? Share your thoughts and opinions!

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