Tracking Progress With Data

The following blog post was published in the Lethbridge Herald on January 28, 2015.

Next week, senior administration will be travelling to each of our fourteen (14) schools to review their continuous improvement plans. These one-hour meetings occur on a regular basis every 4-6 weeks. Continuous improvement plans set the direction at each school. They are established at the school level in collaboration with staff and school council. Although they link to division goals and priorities, the ability to create a plan that is “school unique” provides for improved commitment and enhanced accountability.

The first meeting of the year always revolves around the reasons why a school has chosen particular priorities. This is where the use of data begins. Student learning outcomes, Accountability Pillar results and surveys, including the highly informative Tell Them From Me survey, are examples of some of the data used to determine goals and priorities. Data confirms many of the intuitions that schools and leaders have about what is going well and what needs to be improved.

After goals and targets are set and communicated, subsequent meetings focus on progress. Unfortunately, for many years in education, progress has been measured by activity only. It has been a checklist. While it is important for schools to articulate what they’ve been doing since the last meeting, the depth of the process comes from the dialogue around, ‘how do we know that what we are doing is making the greatest difference?’ In other words, what evidence do you have to support the work you are doing?

During the last couple of years, this evidence based conversation is becoming increasingly familiar, not only between senior administration and school administration, but in our schools directly with our teachers. Whether we want to refer to it as reflective practice or action research, the desire to verify our professional judgment with evidence is a positive step forward. There has been a prevalent shift in education to search for the right data; data that not only communicates to the public what we are doing in schools but, more importantly, informs our practice as part of our continuous improvement journey.

Finding data that both communicates and informs can sometimes be our most difficult challenge. It has always been fairly easy to measure achievement with the likes of a paper and pencil test.  But measuring learning, in its broadest sense, has been far more elusive. The desired student competencies of collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity, all essential for future success, are not as easily evaluated using the current 20th century assessment practices.  And so, as we continue to meet next week to track our progress, our efforts remain focused on finding and collecting the right data to better inform our future goals.

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