Many Christian school leaders make decisions based on experience and “feel.” Certainly, some decisions can be made without collecting data in a systematic fashion. However, a formal data-based decision making process can help Christian school leaders identify important variables related to more efficient operations and decision making than relying on past experiences, memory, or feel as they make important changes and adjustments to culture and tradition.
Data-based decision making can be used in many different ways such as overall organizational progress toward mission and goals, professional performance of staff, and effectiveness of individual teachers and classroom instruction. Additionally, questions about student academic performance behavior can be answered by collecting information systematically. Simply stated, data collected the right way, can yield the right information Christian school leaders need in order to more rightly lead their schools.
How Can Christian School Leadership Best Decide What to Measure?
The decision to measure anything is made when you are concerned about something. Sounds too easy, doesn't it? But, it's true. When you have concern or question about something’s effectiveness (such as student achievement, class academic progress, individual conduct, etc.) or when you want to evaluate a new strategy or program, you employ some form of measurement to gain understanding. So, the first step in deciding what to assess is to understand that something must be of concern to measure.
Unfortunately, but reasonably so, a significant barrier to implementing data-informed decision making falls to the lack of expertise among Christian school leadership regarding the area of data analysis. This is not a slight to Christian school leaders at all, but reality that most leaders are not trained to properly evaluate data and do not do it on a regular enough basis to do it well. Christian schools have long tried to address this challenge to analyze data themselves, bring in others who understand data, or by supporting collaborative opportunities to discuss the data. Typically, this is not enough and will likely lead to further frustration or giving up altogether in trying to make sense of all the collected data.
The key to successfully using data-based decision making in Christian schools is to consider what you want to know and why. Understanding the issues that may be placing a stranglehold on the Christian school, or that could greatly impact its future progress and solvency can enable the leader to better strategize the school year(s) ahead and allocate resources most prudently.
Why Do We Fear Data?
If data-based decision making is supposed to be helpful (and likely here to stay), school leadership must not become leery of its analytics. After all, data has the capacity to uncover weaknesses and failures, but also put on display strengths and expertise. As well, multi-year data can help expose trends, whether good or bad, and help a Christian school make wise decisions that are likely to be useful for years to come.
Many Christian school leaders have a powerful ally on their side: data. Increasingly, administrators are using data to make smarter decisions and are getting results. Instead of responding defensively to criticism, they are armed with facts and figures that tell a more complete story and help opposition understand the root causes of the challenges schools face.
“Data-based decision making is about gathering data to understand if a school is meeting its purpose and vision. If we do not have a target, we could make decisions that essentially lead to ‘random acts of improvement’. Superintendents should strive for focused acts of improvement, which occur when schools are clear about their purpose.” Victoria Bernhardt, author of Data Analysis for Comprehensive Schoolwide Improvement.
Strong Data Collection Can Help Christian Schools
Data can also help Christian school leaders uncover problems they might not otherwise see. Schools might have processes or programs in operation for years but once they look at the data from various angles find it to be utterly ineffective, unimportant, or needing serious attention or overhaul. Data can help Christian schools understand how to get to the root cause of problems and develop viable solutions and not merely bandage symptoms.
Data collection is only as good as the questions from which it is derived, the analysis of its results, and the implementation of solutions it suggests.
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