In talking about the importance of data-based decision making and self-evaluation work in schools, there are a lot of questions in terms of the process – especially for schools who want to start with a grounded approach. Educational leaders who want to make sure data-based decision making supports school improvement know that the school faculty need to work together through a number of collective processes. In getting started, this collective work can be thought of in terms of three dimensions that are deeply connected in practice.
1. The school leader needs to cultivate a school culture that embeds a collective understanding of inquiry and a need for inquiry in daily practice
2. The school needs to decide what data and data sources are useful, appropriate and linked to their needs
3. The school leader needs to mobilize and motivate key stakeholders for data interpretation and decision-making
These broad dimensions can even be regarded as iterative phases to achieve in schools. In order to move through these phases, there are some stepwise processes that can be followed with the understanding that the journey will not be a linear one.
Practically speaking, the following ten steps act as a useful guideline in getting started:
1. Establish a school improvement team with a clear purpose
2. Determine what the school membership believes to be true and the desired direction/targets
3. Given the results of steps 1 & 2, identify what the team needs to know and what data is required to answer key questions
4. Collect and locate the necessary data
5. Ensure the data collected is valid and reliable
6. Link the data
7. Understand the limitations of the data and the role of professional interpretation
8. Analyze the data (or have someone qualified do it for the team)
9. Consider the results in practical fair terms including how to communicate them appropriately
10. Learn from the results and the process
For each of these steps, there are a number of approaches and strategies that can work. School leaders are in the best position to understand their school context, students, community and faculty. School leaders can determine which strategies to use in their school given all these local variables. Their process decisions should reflect the internal capacity that is housed in the school community and the level of readiness to listen to the results.