This is a guest blog by Principal Vera Wehring of B.F. Terry High School in Rosenberg, Texas. This is Dr. Wehring’s 30th year in education, having worked as a teacher, assistant principal, assistant director, and principal. B.F. Terry is a Title 1, comprehensive high school of over 1,600 students. It received recognition as a 2011 MetLife Foundation-NASSP Breakthrough School.
Data, data, and more data. Attendance. Discipline. State assessments. PSAT. SAT. ACT. AP. Classroom-based assessments. Final exams. Six-weeks tests. Mentoring lists. Tutorial logs. Tardies. And more, more, more . . . UGH!
On a daily basis, principals are bombarded with a myriad of data points. It is easy to take a cursory glance at the piles of data, become overwhelmed, and move on to the next item on our to-do lists. It is also tempting to become bogged down in the data and spend hours on end sorting, analyzing, and then failing to act on them. The most effective leaders prioritize data, analyze them, and use them to make data-informed school improvement decisions.
On a daily basis, campus principals use data to monitor and evaluate instruction, programs, and individual student achievement. This is accomplished by layering several aspects of data collection and monitoring through the instructional leadership component of our responsibilities.
Two strategic and innovative ways I have used data are hypermonitoring of the instructional program and focusing on individual student personalization.
Instruction on our campus is monitored through three data collection tools. The first was designed by the school district, using state requirements, primarily for teacher evaluation. While we are required to complete observations using this instrument, our administrative team found that this formal tool was too restrictive and time consuming, and did not provide for us the information that we wanted and needed for our improvement efforts. Thus we adopted from a consulting group a data collection tool that we refined and revised to use for frequent 3–5 minute classroom walkthroughs.
We collect data to help monitor attainment of two of our campus goals: increased rigor and increased student engagement. While we collect data on other classroom practices, these two areas are the focus of our ongoing school improvement and action research project. Our entire leadership team utilizes this data-collection tool during three-week spans, four to five times a year. As part of this process, members of the leadership team each complete 25 classroom walkthroughs per three-week period, and teachers visit two colleagues’ classrooms and complete the same walkthrough form. We then sit together as a campus team and analyze the collected data, reflect upon it, and develop action plans. At other times during the school year, principals visit classrooms and document our visits using another classroom walkthrough form. This form focuses on the implementation of other campus initiatives and is used only by the administrative team.
In short, we have made a commitment to dedicate our time and energy to the most important aspects of schooling—teaching and learning. It is our belief that we must be in the classrooms, holding ourselves and each other accountable by having actual documentation to show that we are doing what we committed to do.
One of the challenges we have faced as a campus is in not meeting some of the rising accountability standards. Each time scores have been below standards, it has been by just a few students, and students from different subpopulations within our school. Thus we learned that we must look at individual student progress and individual student needs, and then individualize student interventions. To do so, we access student testing trends, projections of future success, and suggested interventions based on student profile. This particular data source helps us identify teachers’ value-added performance, identify students in target groups, and drill down to student detail. These data are used alongside traditional classroom assessments, campus and district assessments, and any other information that may be gleaned about individual students so that all students are monitored to ensure they are reaching their potential and achieving at appropriate academic levels. Progress is monitored by students themselves, classroom teachers, the campus leadership team, and the entire faculty.
Over the last several years, we have established processes and procedures to make data collection, analysis, reflection, and action an ongoing and embedded expectation. We do not claim to be perfect, nor do we claim to have found a panacea for all achievement ills. We do continue to refine and adjust our processes as data points change, teacher and leader capacity grows, and student needs alter.
I have been careful not to name or recommend any particular product, group, or service, as I feel it is the processes and conversations among staff that are most important. Specific systems and products come and go as resources and people shift. The most important aspect of school improvement is creating a trusting and collaborative culture of data analysis.