Data that Drives Instructional Action: The Needle in a Haystack

“Data-Driven” Management in Schools and Districts

While observing Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools chief, Dr. Heath Morrison, discussing the four types of approaches schools and school districts typically conform to when using academic performance data, I found his explanation instructive:


Data Phobic–afraid of the data, and what they might reveal.  We certainly still have quite a few districts and schools falling trap to data phobia.
Atlantic’s advice for data-phobic organizations?  Start small.  Engage a partner who’s “been there — done that” with data who can support initial steps. Ask and collect questions.  Hypothesize.   The first step is often the most tentative.  


Data Overload–sometimes derived from over-zealous school system executives and school leaders.  Serving up too much to teachers and teacher leaders does nothing to help move the work for kids.
Atlantic would counsel data-overloaded districts to purge.  Find the most compelling points in the data on which to focus.  Put student achievement in the center of your data analyses and cull the “noise” so that clarity around instructional action can flow. 


DRIP–small, constant “drips’ of data flowing through a school or school district–oft times without a sense of good timing or good strategic sense of how to effectively use data.
Our conversations with Atlantic clients who suffer from “drip” sometimes portray an over-confidence in being truly data-driven.  With these clients, we ask a simple question:  “What do you DO with the data?” We then carefully scribe the responses on a white board so that, once collected, we can identify the VERBS.  Are your district’s data verbs instructionally passive?  For example, “We look at the data.  We analyze the data.  We talk about the data…” If your district’s data verbs do not get to the heart of instructional action, a mid course adjustment may be in order.  


Data-Driven–typically reserved for higher performing schools and school systems where effective use of data actually drives instruction, drives programmatic investments, and drives staffing decisions.
In our clients’ work at Atlantic, we observe clear distinctions in the academic performance growth of students when client organizations are Data-Driven.  Charlotte Mecklenburg remains one of the best examples where data-driven management persists.  My sense is the Data-Driven culture in Charlotte will continue and grow even stronger under Dr. Morrison’s leadership.


2 Comments on “Data that Drives Instructional Action: The Needle in a Haystack

  1. Data Challenged – Asking the wrong questions of the data and getting the right answer to the wrong questions!

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