Analytics every district can use

by Paul Heiser

On Board Online • October 23, 2017

By Paul Heiser
Senior Research Analyst

One of the eight characteristics of effective school boards identified by the National School Boards Association is data savviness. Effective boards embrace and monitor data and use them to drive continuous improvement.

A team of school leaders from the Queensbury Union Free School District in Warren County recommended how to do that at NYSSBA's 98th Annual Convention & Education Expo in Lake Placid. Their session was called "Analytics You Can Use: Building a Data Driven Culture in Your District."

Queensbury began building a data-driven culture in 2010. It started with a data dashboard displayed on a single sheet of paper that showed cohort graduate rates, high school Regents exam results, and English language arts and math test scores. (Editor's Note: The State Education Department is preparing a data dashboard to help districts track measures that will be part of the state's accountability system.)

Seven years later, all Queensbury staff use data in their decision-making processes.

Queensbury's data-driven culture is based on four principles:

1) Data is at the heart of key decisions. The Queensbury school board sets three to four overarching, measureable goals every three years based on the district's mission statement and core values. For example, one of the three goals set by the Queensbury board for the three-year period from 2017 through 2020 is that all students will graduate from high school able to meet or exceed state standards for college- and career-readiness.

"That's a fairly straightforward goal to measure at the high school level; you simply look at graduation rates," said Matt Hladun, the district's director of instructional technology who was one of the presenters. "But how do you measure it at the elementary school level? Well, since literacy is a key factor in whether students will graduate college- and career-ready, we can check to see if they are reading at grade level."

2) Statements are supported by data. "If you think something is not working, bring data to the table that shows why," said Hladun. "It can't be based on a hunch or gut feeling."

3) Data should be reviewed multiple times throughout the year. In Queensbury, building leadership sets a data collection schedule for staff. Data are captured, collected and entered by all teachers in all four of the district's buildings (elementary, intermediate, middle and high schools) up to four times a year. Professional learning communities consisting of teachers meet to review data a minimum of 10 times per year at each building.

Teachers pore over data on state test scores, graduation rates, and locally-developed academic growth assessments to identify trends and areas of instruction that require improvement. Building leadership also meets with central office staff to review the data, and district administrators meet at least four times a year to discuss progress toward meeting building goals.

Finally, the data is shared twice a year with school board members to update them on the progress toward meeting the goals that were set.

Hladun said the data are not meant to be used in a punitive way, but for continuous improvement. "If data show that one teacher's students on a particular standard lag well behind those of other teachers on that standard, we can use that to identify the problem and come up with a solution," he said.

4) Everyone should play a role in the data process. Use of data is not restricted to instruction, but applies to all areas of school district operations, from transportation to school lunches. For example, one of the goals set by Queensbury's board for 2017 through 2020 is that all members of the school community will help maintain a campus-wide environment that fosters high levels of safety and wellness. Transportation directors, for example, can analyze data on the number of bus trips and students transported safely. Directors of buildings and grounds can produce data about completion of work orders to ensure that buildings are being kept safe and efficient.

Data monitoring in Queensbury is a continuous process, 12 months of the year. The culture is so ingrained that the district schedules late student arrivals periodically throughout the year so that teams of educators and other staff can meet to share information, analyze data and collaborate, according to Jill Borgos, the school board president and a member of the presentation team.

"Be patient," was the advice of Queensbury Superintendent Douglas Huntley for districts interested in having a data-centered culture. "This could take some time."

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