Expanding Data Analysis Skills in Educational Leaders: Implications for Preparation Programs

By Polnick, Barbara; Edmonson, Stacey L. | Scholar-Practitioner Quarterly, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Expanding Data Analysis Skills in Educational Leaders: Implications for Preparation Programs


Polnick, Barbara, Edmonson, Stacey L., Scholar-Practitioner Quarterly


Abstract

The National Policy Board of Educational Administration reflects the belief that principals should be taught processes for experimenting and learning from real world data to meet the challenges of the work environment. This study of practicing principals yielded a content analysis of 482 responses, which reflect the need for principals to effectively use data available on their campuses. This study more clearly defined the content and strategies that should be used in the training of educational leaders, both practicing and prospective principals, which should be of significance to educational leadership preparation programs seeking to improve the relevance of their coursework.

Introduction

In the era of No Child Left Behind (United States Department of Education, 2002), principals nationwide have the responsibility of improving achievement for all students on their campuses. While this expectation to increase performance on mandatory accountability assessments for all students is a problem, no one solution that works best for every school has been found. Thus, principals are faced with exploring many solutions to meet the specific needs of their campuses. The ability to accurately and appropriately use the data made available to them through local, state, and national accountability measures is critical to principals' effectiveness at ultimately improving student achievement (Price & Burton, 2004; Yeagley, 2001). As Englert, Fries, Goodwin, Martin-Glenn, and Michael (2004) reported, "If schools are not actively engaged in effectively using accountability data, generating the increases in student achievement required by this legislation [No Child Left Behind] becomes unattainable" (p.1).

The work of school principals has become increasingly more complex and demanding. As we move through the 21st century, principals face demands not only to be effective leaders but also to operate successfully in an environment of continuous change (Hoyle, English, & Steffy, 1998). To prepare principals who can meet these challenges, the National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NPBEA) created a training guide, Principals for our Changing Schools: Knowledge and Skill Base (Thomson, 1993). This publication reflects the belief that principals need to be taught the processes for experimenting and learning from real world data to be ready to meet the daily challenges of the work environment. While the NPBEA standards require principals to look at statistics and data analysis, very little training on how to gather and analyze data to make informed decisions is provided in the training manual or in many preparation programs. Nor are principals prepared well enough to effectively analyze and report their findings to their stakeholders, especially in the current age of data-driven accountability (Creighton, 2001; Holcomb, 2004; McNamara, 1994). In fact, Holcomb (2004) found that lack of proper training is one of the six barriers that prevent school leaders from effectively using data. In her words, the ability to effectively use data is a skill "that too few school leaders have had the opportunity to acquire in their graduate work or have seen modeled in their own experiences" (p. 27).

The 21 domains found in the NPBEA typology represent a convenient classification system one can use to better examine preparation strategies for school principals. The domains in the NPBEA typology are not discrete but rather interrelated, with 11 process- or skill-oriented domains and 10 content-focused domains. This typology reflects the belief that principals need to be taught a process for experimenting and learning from real-world data to be ready to meet the daily challenges they will face in the work environment. Thus, the overall goal of Principals for Changing our Schools (Thomson, 1993) was to develop professionals who have the understanding and skills necessary to address routine as well as emergent problems of practice. …

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