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Success Story

Teams That Use Data Together, Succeed Together

Student data paint a picture. The picture illustrates, academically speaking, where the students were, where they are, and where they need to be. But, just as people look at pictures with different perspectives, educators can interpret data in varied ways based on their work and experiences.

For example, district administrators tend to look at student data in a broad sense, focusing on state assessments and the overall achievement of the district. Principals usually want to know more specifics, such as the performance of subgroups or which subjects showed improvement. Teachers are typically more concerned with the achievement of individual students, and technology coordinators have yet another view, concentrated on data-collecting systems and the types of reports they can generate.

Building a well-balanced team to analyze and interpret school data is critical to the school improvement process, according to Kathy Massey, director of the Area IV Learning Technology Center in Illinois. In 2003, the center was awarded a No Child Left Behind Act competitive grant, which required them to provide training around data analysis as well as identify areas for improvement.

In search of a good provider for data training, Massey found Bryan Chumbley, a senior program associate at Learning Point Associates, who provides data retreats for schools and districts nationwide. He, too, stressed the importance of having the right players at the table when talking about data.

"If you have a room full of principals, for example, they may not consider the technical capabilities of the computer software, which their technology coordinators know inside and out, Chumbley said. "We encourage districts to bring a variety of participants to a data retreat because each member of the team offers a unique perspective based on background and experience.

Select Your Team
Chumbley recommends including the following individuals when developing data leadership teams: district superintendents, principals, special education representatives, curriculum representatives, teachers, technology coordinators, representatives from specific programs and school guidance counselors. Teams should be kept to a reasonable size, preferably 15 or fewer people.

Another aspect Chumbley said you should consider are the qualities that team members contribute. Each individual should have collaborative skills and an appreciation for using data. The process of school improvement requires a team of educators who collaborate well and understand the value of collecting, analyzing, and using relevant data to guide good decision making.

When the leadership teams from the schools and districts Massey works with attended the preliminary data retreat meetings, she said some administrators were surprised to learn how much their technology coordinators knew. Some team members came to the retreat with preconceived notions about the root of their problems, but after working with data and questioning their hypotheses, they came to a different conclusion altogether. Massey said having a balanced team opened up lots of ways to think about data and made for a richer conversation.

Team Success
To find success as a team, you need a climate of trust and openness, without finger-pointing when problems are uncovered. The most productive teams operate collaboratively and value honest communication, diversity and creativity, ongoing evaluation and decision making by consensus.

The Area IV Technology Learning Center continues to build such teams. It has hosted eight data retreats and has plans for more. According to Massey, it is a popular program thanks to Chumbley and others at Learning Point Associates. Massey said it was also important that they could customize the retreat for the specific needs of the districts.

Massey said the participants got the most out of working with their own data and having the time to work and figure things out. "The consultants helped the team members develop a hypothesis and then helped them question it. That's where the real discovery comes," said Massey. She said she now sees a more positive attitude and willingness toward using data among data retreat participants. People also seem more comfortable in using data to paint an accurate picture of the schools for the community.

Put These on Your "To Do" List
To get your staff plugged into using data, here's what you need to do as an administrator:

  • Discover your staff's capacity for using data and technology.

  • Develop your data team.

  • Determine who is responsible for assembling your data.

  • Acquire a system for housing your data and generating reports.

  • Distribute the data. Share it and talk about it often.

  • Interpret the picture your data are building. Identify the trends.

  • Plan improvements based on your findings.

To learn more about how data retreats and data-driven decisionmaking, call Learning Point Associates at 800-252-0283, or visit online at www.learningpt.org/datause.

Copyright © 2004 LRP Publications. What's Working: Data-Driven Decision-Making In The Schools. Reprinted with permission. To subscribe, call 800-341-7874 or visit online at www.lrp.com/store.

 

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