“Schools and school districts are under intense pressure to improve. With both limited resources and limited time to develop processes that allow them to move steadily upward, schools must use data to ensure that their improvement is effective and continuous.”(Berhardt, V.L., 2004)
Statistical evidence is a reliable form of reference for determining effectiveness in any organization. However, in education, data and empirical information have not always been the go to when determining the effectiveness in schools. Historical information, personal preference, and individual judgments are fading away as a basis for decision making in schools (Herman & Gribbons, 2001). With the increasing need for student achievement, a more technical and reliable avenue must be used to optimize and improve learning. In the past few years we have seen many changes in educational standards, not only for our state, but also for the nation. NCLB has made drastic alterations to how teachers and students need to conduct themselves when it comes to the information learned on every grade level. The emphasis put on standardized testing scores has also called for an alternative way of analyzing teaching practices. This is why the need and use for data analysis has become priority for most school districts. Nation wide, there are different types of data now being used to assess learning, teacher effectiveness, and appropriate curriculums for each grade level. There is an important amount of information that can be attained from data analysis but many educational professionals are concerned with what information is being compiled along with how it is used.
Some of the advantages to using data analysis are to show the level of student learning, level of retention between grade levels, impact of programs being implemented, effectiveness of teaching styles, and determining whether the level of education is up to par with students needs (Bernhardt, 2004). The advantages of utilizing data do not come without criticism or concern. The majority of concern about data analysis comes from the emphasis on statewide testing. Standardized testing results yield the bulk of the data used to critique teachers and the schools that they work in. Unfortunately, it seems that many of these concerns are validated. Formative assessments are taking place in schools and are also an indicator of learning, however, summative assessments are the primary reference for assessing student achievement. This poses many concerns for educational professionals. It seems as if something is being taken away from daily and individual teaching because everyone must show proficiency in subjects on standardized testing. Research has shown that standardized tests may not be the best indicator of learning, but students and teachers are still being finely critiqued on how well they perform. There are opposing views about changes made to education in recent years. However, the best thing to do for students is to clearly define the best ways to optimize their education.
What must be made clear is that student achievement data is not the only form of data in which can greatly assist schools. Demographic, Perceptional and School process data are all important forms of information that can and should be used to improve the mechanics of a school. Demographic data can tell us more about the students, teachers, and how both groups may be properly matched. It can give the school leaders an idea of who the student body is and who may be the best fit for conveying their education. Demographics are also the root of telling how well the school is meeting the needs of students. To examine a school in a different light, perceptional data can be used to receive more personal information from staff, students, and the community. Perceptual data can give everyone a voice, which is equally important in meeting the needs of the students. It not only tells us how the students feel, but how the staff and community feel about the education and educational environment. Lastly, School process data is a beneficial way of attaining more specific data about the precise workings of a school. School process data tells more about the specific curriculum, instruction, and assessment strategies used by teachers. This data can show administration what the teachers are doing and how they are using educational components to yield results (good or bad)
The use of data for assessing aspects of education can be incredibly beneficial, however schools must be careful how they are using the information. The real question here is not why are we using data analysis but how we can use the information to optimize learning in schools. Is the information that is being attained being used properly, or is it being used to critique staff/ teachers on subjects and tests that are not part of their curriculum? There has obviously been both support and criticism from the increase in data based decision making in schools. Some criticism may come from the lack of a clear set of guidelines for how schools should use the information. The information gathered should be used to assess how well any given school is doing to meet the educational needs of the students. Much of the information obtained can display whether or not the curriculum and or teaching practices are working. If not, it will show what may need to be altered for improvement. If used properly, the information can be used to optimize learning as well as to increase the proficiency and skills of everyone involved, students, teachers and staff included.
Below I have included a link for more information on how NJ is using data analysis in schools:
Bernhardt, V. (2004). Continuous Improvement: It takes more than test scores. ACSA Leadership , 16-19.
Herman, J. & Gribbons, B. (2001). Lessons learned in using data to support school inquiry and continuous improvement: Final report to the Stuart Foundation. CSE Technical Reprt 535 .