Thursday, February 17, 2005

New report shows how to better diagnose school progress using data

Seattle, WA - School district leaders can gauge the health of their schools by cutting through the blizzard of statistics in which they are buried to focus on a few key indicators, according to a new report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs.

According to "Buried Treasure: Developing a Management Guide from Mountains of Data," seven essential pieces of information can provide school board members, superintendents, central office staff, and community leaders with most of the important data required to reach conclusions about how well schools are doing. Too often, suggests the report, school leaders fall prey to the temptation to concentrate on a single piece of information, often a test score, from one school year.

Districts are already overwhelmed with data and statistics, much of it required by federal and state law," according to CRPE analyst Mary Beth Celio, lead investigator on the project. "Our report demonstrates how district leaders can find essential information to identify struggling schools early on. Knowing where to concentrate their efforts can assist state, district, and local leadership in helping these struggling schools to meet their students' needs."

Indicators, says the new report, are discrete pieces of information that reveal something significant about what is going on in a larger system. The point is that whenever we are unable to view a large system in its totality, indicators can provide a general sense of how well the system is functioning, noted Paul T. Hill, director of CRPE. To our knowledge, this is the first real attempt to define a workable indicator system for local schools, said Hill.

Based on an extensive review of indicator and school effectiveness research, this report presents an easy-to-read school data summary and innovative analysis techniques that can be used by school districts and those interested in their progress. The indicators outlined in the report can track progress and help identify troubled schools, but expert assistance at the school level will be necessary to diagnose the causes of school problems and provide solutions, cautioned Celio.

The management guide doesn't produce a grade for a school, said Celio. It provides a clear picture of where a school is and where it is going relative to other schools in the district and relative to the goals of education leaders within the local area.

Development of this report was supported by The Wallace Foundation as part of its major investment in strengthening education leadership to improve student achievement. "Buried Treasure can help education leaders turn a mountain of data into the information they need to meet the demands of improving schools and raising student achievement, stated Richard Laine, director of education at The Wallace Foundation.

"Smart use of these data holds the potential of dramatically altering the tone and quality of board-superintendent relationships," according to report co-author James Harvey. "These indicators illuminate real, school-level issues and can help district and school leaders target scarce resources where they are most needed."

They do so, he said, by keying in on and displaying essential information about how well schools are doing, now and over the past five years, in seven areas:

  1. Student achievement: How do each school's students score on math and reading tests?
  2. Elimination of the achievement gap: Is each school closing the achievement gap by race, economic status, English ability and/or other student characteristics?
  3. Student attraction: Is each school able to attract students?
  4. Student engagement with school: How well is each school engaging students based on attendance, tardiness and involvement in activities?
  5. Student retention/completion: How well has each school been able to retain its students during the schools year(s) and how many students have completed the requirements at that level of school?
  6. Teacher attraction and retention: How many teachers apply to open spots at each school, and how many teachers leave during or at the end of the year?
  7. Funding equity: Does the school receive the funding/resources budgeted for it or to which it is entitled by appropriations, special programs and the needs of the students?

This report builds on prior CRPE research on the challenges currently faced by school teachers, principals, and superintendents throughout the country as well as school district finance, the achievement gap, and accountability systems.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington's Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs conducts independent research and policy analysis to improve America's schools.

The Wallace Foundation seeks to support and share effective ideas and practices that expand learning and enrichment opportunities for all people. Its three current objectives are to strengthen education leadership to improve student achievement, improve out-of-school learning opportunities and expand participation in arts and culture. For more information and research on these and other related topics, please visit our Knowledge Center at

Related Research: