Districts strive to ensure that programs and initiatives are effective in their specific context with their particular population of students and teachers. Districts need evidence not only to validate decisions but also to continuously assess and improve their programs. They must collect data to determine if a new program is improving outcomes for students, through measures like student learning, graduation rates, or attitudes and behaviors. For districts that have several innovative programs in place simultaneously, it can be difficult to break apart the data to figure out which interventions are helping move the needle. Finally, the outcomes districts are interested in can take a long time to yield results; districts are looking to collect more data points faster, in order to make timely decisions based on evidence.
In the Words of District Leaders
“We really try to look at data in a lot of different ways. Some of it’s subjective, some of it’s more objective….The hard part I think with a lot of those things is it’s hard to tell exactly what is causing the growth or gains of student achievement. Is it the new curriculum that we have in place, is it the PD and training the teachers have received in using a particular app or program, is it the program that we instituted…what exactly is it? I think we’ve got a lot of things going and so sometimes it’s really hard to pinpoint any one thing and say, ‘Oh that’s the reason why student scores are going up.'”
Ideas from the Field
- Districts acknowledge that this is one area that is constantly shifting, requiring districts to continuously ask new and different questions. One district described looking at data in both “objective and subjective” ways, while some districts also partner with external consultants or organizations, including local universities, to analyze and use data.
- Many districts work with internal evaluators or have full departments dedicated to research and evaluation. Some of these teams meet regularly with leadership or other district representatives to review data and make informed decisions about key initiatives.
Check out the following research-based resources for more information about data-informed decision-making:
Data-Driven Decision Making – This five-part toolkit from CoSN strengthens district leaders’ capacity to use educational data to improve instructional practice and student achievement.
Data-Driven Classroom – From ASCD, an introduction to data-driven educational decision-making.