Data-driven, Decision-making Organizations

Blueprint Bulletin

“The most important criterion for determining whether educators are ‘doing data right’ is whether their use of data leads to improved student learning.”

~Richard DuFour, Doing Data Right

The ultimate goal of data-driven, decision-making organizations is to continuously improve results. In a school district, these results are tied to improving student outcomes. This means collecting, analyzing, and responding to relevant data daily, weekly, and monthly to improve leading, teaching, and learning. A data-driven, decision-making district is focused on results and develops a culture of collective responsibility for improving student outcomes. Why collective responsibility? Because educating children is not just the job of the classroom teacher, it is the responsibility of the entire school community. 

Collective responsibility includes the effective use of data at all levels of the organization: district, buildings, and classrooms. A data-driven educational culture is key to identifying strengths, uncovering opportunities for growth, making decisions, and ensuring those decisions lead to specific actions for both leaders and teachers. During systems development, remember that a system is always working to improve itself. For improvement to happen, feedback in the form of data is essential.

District priorities set the course, and district academic and non-academic goals lead to identified actions necessary to reach the destination.  According to author Mike Schmoker in his book Focus, “Priority is a function of simplicity, and it dictates that we only focus on a few things at a time” — namely, on those elements that are most likely to help us achieve our goals.  Similarly in the book Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, authors Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny use the term vital behaviors to describe the smallest set of actions that lead to the results you want to achieve. These vital behaviors are the few high-leverage actions that teachers and leaders turn into routines that produce the desired student learning outcomes. 

One of the vital behaviors in districts is the continual use of data to inform decisions.  In the absence of data, decisions are made on assumptions or personal opinions which may not lead to the desired result of impacting student learning. Ensuring that all educators use data to guide decisions and identify next steps is foundational to becoming a data-driven, decision-making organization. 

As mentioned above, focus on two or three vital actions that produce the greatest amount of change. Reflect on how your use of data, as a vital behavior, is leading to impactful change in yourself and of others.  How are you using your data to make decisions that change what teachers and leaders do on a daily basis? 

Patterson, K., & Grenny, J. (2013). Influencer: The new science of leading change, Second Edition. McGraw-Hill Education.

Schmoker, Mike. Focus – Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning. ASCD, 2011.

Blueprint Connections

“If schools are in the business of helping students learn, then the data used to guide decisions should relate directly to student achievement.”

~Robert J. Marzano

Making decisions based on data is a part of a Blueprint district’s culture. The Blueprint emphasizes Problem-Solving and Performance Management as components that are integral to the success of system installation overall.  Both of these components use data in slightly different ways to inform next steps for the district. 

Within Performance Management, building-level data is analyzed on a regular basis to see if student performance is on track to meet the targets set by the district. Both academic and non-academic data are part of the data conversations which end with action plans to address the identified opportunities for growth. The decisions based on the data are fed up to the district level. The district also examines its own data on systems installation to track its own progress.

The Problem-Solving component utilizes data for identifying opportunities for growth, examining root causes, and determining the next right step for the district, building, or classroom. When barriers to student learning are identified, the use of a problem-solving protocol can help district or building teams quickly address and remove barriers. 

In addition to data being used at the district and building levels, data is also used by classroom teachers individually and collectively to make day-to-day decisions about designing and delivering instruction and the levels of instructional support needed for individual students.  Data is everywhere in schools and districts. Knowing what data to use and for what purpose is part of becoming a data-driven, decision-making district. As systems and routines are developed within the Blueprint, data is an essential component that helps districts know where they stand and where they want to move next. 

Leader’s Corner

“Things get done only if the data we gather can inform and inspire those in a position to make [a] difference.”

~Mike Schmoker

Imagine for a minute the multitude of data you have at your fingertips in the age of technology. It may seem that you have too much data and don’t even know where to start. That is a common refrain heard from leaders. You may have heard of the phrase “data rich and information poor.”  This phrase was first used in the 1983 best-selling business book, In Search of Excellence, to describe organizations rich in data, but lacking the processes to produce meaningful information and to create a competitive advantage. In 2020, are you lacking processes for data that create impactful learning environments for students? 

Here’s a suggestion. Pull up one data set that you have access to and start with these two questions: 1) What outcomes do I want to impact in my school or district? and 2) How will this data set help me to reach my outcomes? Starting with determining the outcomes you want to achieve is important because it helps you to narrow your focus. If the data set you are looking at will not help you reach your outcomes, don’t spend time pouring over the data, move on to other data and begin again. 

Once you find a data set that you believe will help you achieve your desired outcome, continue to the next set of questions.  3) What decisions do these data help me make? 4) What actions do these data indicate I or others need to take? and 5) What vital behaviors do we need to make routine within my school or district to reach our outcomes? 

Using an inquiry-based data approach and starting with some basic questions helps you to determine which data sets provide you with relevant information and helps move you forward towards your goals. Remember that multiple data sets, i.e., perception data, achievement data, process data, provide you with different perspectives and are better than using just one set of data to guide your decisions. As a building or district leader, you are making important decisions every day that impact teaching and learning.  How might collective responsibility support you, your building, and your district to use data effectively to improve teacher and leader practices so students have a better opportunity to succeed?

Teacher’s Corner

“Data are just summaries of thousands of stories – tell a few of those stories to help make the data meaningful.”

~Chip and Dan Heath

Reflect on the last time you looked at student data from your classroom. Was it today? Yesterday? Last week? Or last month? Most likely, you look at student data of some kind every day, how might you analyze the data to determine the story the data tells? Data often needs interpretation, context, and deep thinking. As a classroom teacher, your time is valuable and filled with responsibilities for teaching, assessing, supporting, guiding, and questioning. Exploring data stories can help. 

Grades, attendance, behavioral data, intervention data, assessment data, and even what you and others observe your students doing daily in the classroom, all are sources of data stories. All data tells a story, you just need to uncover the wealth of knowledge hidden beneath the surface. Some data stories are uplifting and help you recognize the growth an individual student or group of students have made. Other data stories unveil barriers to learning that students may be facing. Either way, data tells you the current state and allows you to determine how you move forward for each student or each class. That is the beauty of teaching, in some respects each day is new. A new opportunity to touch the life of a child, help them learn, encourage curiosity, and support their growth. 

To begin unearthing data stories, ask yourself what a set of data is telling you about a student or group of students and if the story is one of growth and improvement or does it tell of struggles and barriers. Using multiple data sets, collected and analyzed over time, provides a more complete story.  Learning has twists and turns, ups and downs, ebbs and flows. Used appropriately, learning data should do the same: reflect on the journey your students take each year and the adventures that cohorts of students take over the years. So expand your storytelling to a variety of data and look for trends and nuances that enhance the stories you tell. All data stories lead to questions about how you will respond based on the story being told. Data stories often lead to actions for both you and the student. What do you need to do to support the student to grow and thrive? What can the student do to enhance their own probability of success? 

Share your data stories and the steps you plan to take with colleagues. Ask for their input and suggestions. Inquire about the data stories they are creating for their own students. Thinking of data as information that has an important story to tell, provides you with a simple frame to begin holding data conversations with your colleagues. These frequent data conversations with colleagues will support your building and district in growing a feeling of community and build collective responsibility for the success of each child.

Timely Topics

The next session of the Superintendent’s Network will be held on Friday, March 6, 2020, at the Lansing Crowne Plaza. You may have heard we have introduced the concept of small system cycles at the Principal and Central Office Network sessions in February. Now it will be your turn to explore this new way of thinking about system installation that has the power to move your district to impactful actions more quickly. Join us for collegial conversations around leading sustainable change and using data to grow and support your leaders and teachers. Your fellow Superintendents always have insights and ideas to share. Don’t miss this event!  Follow the link to register and plan on joining us for a thought-provoking day.

“The goal is to turn data into information and information into insight.”

~Carly Fiorina, former Chief Executive Officer, Hewlett Packard

One way to think through becoming a data-driven, decision-making organization is to begin with the end in mind.  Guiding questions might be, What are the district’s priorities (short term and long term)? Where do you want students to be at the end of the 2019-2020 school year academically and non-academically?  Where do you want your students to be by the end of this lesson? The ultimate goal of being a data-driven, decision-making organization is to continuously improve results. Determine the data that is needed to meet that end goal and be intentional in how you might use that data to determine the next right steps for students, teachers, and leaders to grow and thrive.

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