Guest posted on October 25, 2012. 0 Comments

Principals’ Decisions Are Best Made with Data

Category: Teacher Effectiveness

This is a guest blog by Johanna Kinsley, a former DQC intern and current communications manager with Ramapo for Children.

Fall is in full swing, and we can only hope for a fantastic 2012–13 school year. That we not only includes staff members at the Data Quality Campaign, but also state policymakers, school administrators, teachers, parents, and students—we all want to improve education. And we all need the access to and use of quality data to do it.

In honor of October as National Principals Month, let’s take a look at the role of school administrators and how their use of data can help improve education.

While teachers are hard at work overseeing student improvement in the classroom, principals are charged with managing student improvement, teacher effectiveness, and the overall success of their school. With such high-stakes responsibility, principals need their decisionmaking to be grounded in and guided by dependable information.

So what decisions crop up that will benefit from a school administrator’s use of data? Take, for instance, a high school principal. One major priority is for her students to stay on track to graduate and succeed in college and careers. Principals should not only have access to early warning indicators like attendance, behavior, and course success, but should actively seek them out and use them in practice. With such timely, accurate information, the principal can analyze data to identify students who are slipping off track and work with their teachers and counselors to guide immediate intervention or alter the curriculum.

That same principal must also ensure her teachers are doing all they can to provide the strongest educational experience to the students. Including value-added data in a teacher assessment can paint a longitudinal picture of impact on student learning. The state of Tennessee has a system in place, Tennessee’s Value-Added Assessment System, that reports the extent to which the teacher met or exceeded the statistical expectation for student achievement. These data help principals understand where their teachers are struggling, which guides better allocation of resources and useful professional development to increase student achievement.

School administrators make decisions big and small every day. Good leadership requires making those decisions with certainty—and that’s why data are so important to principals. As leaders, when principals adopt a data-informed practice, their teachers, parents, and students will follow suit. And a school with a data-use culture? Well, it’s bound to achieve the educational improvement we all hope for.

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