As we approach the conclusion of this school year, if you’re a principal, you should be asking, “how did we do this year?” On one hand, you’re probably thinking that soon enough you’ll have the year-end data that will answer that question. If you’re counting on your summative data to tell you all that you need to know, you’re going to be missing important data that will be difficult to obtain later.
Our efforts to be more deliberate and intentional in the work in classrooms and schools is well-placed. Being better informed has led to better strategies, better decisions, and more-relevant instruction. Data is… good.
Often, we don’t have all of the data and we often short in our gathering before we get everything we need. We need to collect, analyze, and interpret data that will complement what we expect to get from state-mandated testing, school and district reports, and summative information.
We need to go deeper than what; we need to gather the data that will help us understand why.
One of our greatest challenges is to advance from a first-order analysis of data into a more sophisticated search that can genuinely lead us to more effective strategies. For example, it is interesting to compare the number of students in our school who have been absent beyond a certain number of days to the attendance of students from neighboring schools, sometimes in our system. It is instead impactful when we gather data from students in our school that helps us better understand the decisions made by students with poor attendance, as well as those with good attendance.
Knowing why students attend school or are absent is much more useful than a mere list of students, their absences, and their absence codes. While everyone has common absence codes that are used in recording student attendance, does that tell you what you really need to know?
Here’s another example. Student performance. Quite often we look at student performance as it compares to other students in our school and on occasion how it stacks up against students at other schools in our system, region and even state. We have grown more accustomed (and are still in the transition) to considering how a student compares against her previous performance: growth.
But that’s only the beginning. Can we collect, keep, and interpret not just those comparisons but also the reasons behind the variances? While we can make some inferences at face value, we most likely need additional information in order to really understand performance at a level that can be used to drive change.
We need more data. Much of it may need to be gathered from conversations with small groups. Some of it can be gathered from students; other will need to come from teachers, and even parents. If you know more about a student’s performance, isn’t it more likely that you and your team can design instruction to better fit that student’s needs?
That data isn’t just going to leap onto your desk. It’ll require you to ask questions of your students, their parents, your teachers and staff. What questions should you ask? That will be the focus of Principal Matters! this week: questions.
This year isn’t over yet, but it will be soon. You should figure out what you would like to know from your people while they’re still around. Then, if you can prioritize this effort amongst all of the other things you are tending to, you will have meaningful data to complement the data you already have, and together you’ll have the picture you need to improve instruction.
Begin thinking: what’s missing? What do I need to know to be able to accurately answer the question how did we do this year? Who do you need to ask? When will you ask them?
More to come this week!