Evidence-informed decision making in schools is central to moving a school to be better – more effective and more efficient. We have a lot of research and case studies that show how powerful the processes embedded in evidence-informed decision making can be in schools. But, we also have a lot of case studies that show that engaging in the process can be tricky and needs to be done with careful leadership.
There are a number of requirements for a school to move through these processes towards improvement and effectiveness. One of the keys to understanding how to move a school forward is to understand that a school is an organizational system that relies on the collective thinking and the actions of individual professionals. Accept this premise and evidence-informed decision making becomes about how these professionals individually and collectively use information.
First, let’s agree that information is data that has already been processed in a useful way for professional use. How that information gets taken up by teachers, vice-principals, and principals in schools determines if the information has an effect on the school system.
If the professional staff look at the information without authentic consideration and reflection, then there will not be an effect.
Consider Linda, the principal of an elementary school in Dubai. She approached Charlotte and Mike, the two Grade 4 teachers and informed them that after reviewing the standardized test results for Grade 4, she noticed a serious weakness in understanding fractions for 64% of the Grade 4 kids in the school who were entering Grade 5 in a few months. Charlotte and Mike thanked Linda and promised to look into the situation. They returned to Mike’s classroom, got the curriculum guide out, looked up the learning outcomes under Number Sense and agree that, indeed, representing the relationship between decimals, mixed numbers, and fractions is a challenge for Grade 4 kids because it is so abstract. The two teachers then moved on to talk about the challenge of getting through all of the curriculum by the end of the year.
This is an example of how information sits in a school even when the data has been collected, collated, and processed for easy use by teaching professionals.
If the professional staff look at the information with authentic consideration and reflection, then they are examining the information to make sense out of it.
The alternative:First, Linda could have gone over the results with the entire team guiding them through understanding the results of the standardized tests so that as a group of teachers, they all developed an appreciation for student strengths and weaknesses.Second, the Grade 5 teachers could have been involved to comment on student learning and achievement in fractions at the next level. The information from the Grade 5 teachers is directly relevant to the school as a system. Finally, the teachers could sit together and consider that if they believe that the concepts are too abstract for Grade 4 kids, then what are the alternative teaching and learning strategies to represent fractions in a concrete manner?
This is a simple example. But if information is going to be taken up and used for school improvement, then it cannot be “passed on” with cursory attention in schools. For school improvement to occur, information needs to be included in meaningful professional discussions that make sense of the information for the context and needs of the students, teachers, and principals.