Leadership Skills for Supporting Learning: School Leaders Need to Understand the Skills It Takes to Use School Data as the Centerpiece for Decision Making around Student Achievement
Price, William J., Burton, Ella M., Leadership
If you are a principal assigned to a school that is not meeting achievement standards, you have lots of company. As a result of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the parallel state-adopted accountability models, many schools throughout the country are now designated as underperforming schools. These are schools, perhaps like yours, that have not been able to demonstrate acceptable levels of achievement for all groups of students as measured by accountability standards.
If the principal's job were not already tough enough in those schools, it is now made even more daunting by the task of figuring out how to develop a strategy for school improvement.
Sadly, many principals are simply ill-prepared to create and manage a building infrastructure that supports effective instruction and has as its constant focus the technical core of teaching and learning. The question, of course, is how does one create such an infrastructure?
While there are many leadership skills needed by the principal to support instructional improvement and student learning, for the purpose of this article we would suggest two specific skills that are absolutely essential. The first is the ability to collect and manage information about your students, staff, building and community. The second skill is the ability to analyze and use this data to effectively assess areas where students are not achieving to expected levels of proficiency.
Careful analysis of school data should be used to inform actual decisions by the principal and school staff--decisions that lead to the development of clear objectives and strategies to improve teaching and learning.
Creating a school-wide database
So where do you begin? To make data collection and analysis less mysterious, it might be helpful to use as a metaphor the instrument panel of your car. Each time you take your vehicle out for a drive, you are actually managing and analyzing data. The primary source of data is the speedometer, which tells you the speed that you are traveling in miles per hour. That data is only meaningful, however, after you mentally process that information in the context of your knowledge, experience and objectives. For example, upon analysis you may realize that you are traveling too fast for the road conditions, which require you to decrease your speed to a safe level. Or you may realize that you are driving too far beneath the speed limit and backing up traffic on a busy freeway.
Similar analyses are done using other gauges on the instrument panel and a host of computerized warning lights that alert you to potential problems that will require your attention in order to return to optimal performance. Whether we realize it or not, every day we collect, process and analyze information as we go about our lives, and so should it be for schools.
The first question for the principal to consider is what kind of data will be needed to accurately describe the students, staff and community that, upon analysis, will assist in discovering specific areas needing improvement. A review of recent literature on the use of data for decision making in schools suggests the importance of perception data, process data, demographic data, attendance and behavior data and results data.
Perception data describes the various stakeholders' perceptions of the school as a learning community and measures the school's self-perception against the community's image of the school. Perception data is usually collected from various stakeholders in the school community through the use of carefully constructed surveys and questionnaires. If you are not adept at developing such questionnaires or surveys, help is readily available.
Such data generally reveals values and beliefs that constituents hold about how business is conducted in the school and the importance given to academics, school environment, leadership and communication, as well as the degree of parent satisfaction with the school and staff. …