Blog Series: Data is Your Friend!
Introduction: How to Use Data to Drive School Improvement
Chris Loiselle has been involved in secondary school virtual learning for over ten years. Before that he was a college professor, online course designer, company CEO, and CPA. During his time in virtual learning he was invited to help build from their inception the two schools he currently supports, and continuous improvement was one of his responsibilities. Student Achievement Systems asked Chris to give us his perspective on incorporating the use of data in managing a school. Here’s what he shared.
“We educators are not the same as corporate employees. In the corporate world you either lead, follow, or you get out of the way. In contrast, educators are given enough classroom autonomy to build comfort in individually following their own unique path, and leading and guiding them is much like herding cats! Because of this, I actually prefer working with educators. They are smart, passionate, caring, and hard working people with great ideas who expect to be heard. What I found was that in order to change a school’s direction and implement improvement plans with educators, it requires a considerable amount of pre-planning and foundation building to create the buy-in needed for success.
Another critical ingredient in using data for improvement planning in education is that you cannot create more work for your educators! When we first began identifying and tracking data for our improvement planning, we required our educators to collect and report data. We used Google sheets and required them to enter data into these. What happened was that the collection of data became a serious barrier to working with students. Time normally used by our educators to support students now was taken up managing and monitoring data. This resulted in major problems with staff morale and declining student outcomes. We learned that we had to first select the most meaningful and trackable data, and then automate the collection process so that our educators could focus on what they love – working with and supporting students.”
Next we’ll dive into the specific steps Chris and his team took to incorporate the use of data in improvement planning, and the results they obtained through their efforts.
Identifying Measurable and Meaningful Goals
The first step in implementing the effective use of data in schools is to identify a measurable and meaningful goal. Most schools do that very well. Statewide school accountability metrics usually become the focus starting with academic growth or student outcomes like graduation rates. Many States have accountability systems which report out, at least annually, several comparable metrics in these categories. In the State of Michigan, student academic growth measured through State Assessments including the ACT and PSAT tests become the focus. Student completion rates and progress are measured through high school graduation rates. Michigan has various reports available to the public which include these metrics. The school we observed was an alternative education virtual high school covering grades 9 through 12. They decided to concentrate specifically on two areas – improving academic performance and increasing graduation rates. We will be discussing the efforts at improving graduation rates in this blog.
The choice of meaningful goals should be driven primarily by the demands of your funding sources(normally State and Federal governments), your clients(students, parents, and the community you serve), and your staff. That’s a lot of potentially competing interests! In addition, the first priority should be to focus on those metrics that you feel are not at the level expected, and need work. They also must be measurable. We like the idea of using the S.M.A.R.T. acronym to evaluate your goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely). In this schools’ case, the graduation rates were lower than desired and were becoming an issue for the school’s board and the authorizers. A growth goal of 5% annual improvement was identified as their SMART goal.
We’ll discuss the important difference between lead and lag metrics next. You need to understand this difference before you develop your tracking, monitoring and reporting process to ensure that you are tracking the right metrics.” Next, Part 1: Finding Measurable Lead Metrics.
Since 2011 Chris Loiselle has worked as building administrator, CFO, and Chief Strategic Officer for Success Virtual Learning Centers and Berrien Springs Public Schools, where he is currently filling the Director of Quality Assurance role. While working at Success, Chris was instrumental in the development of the Pulse student support software. His passion is working in K-12 managing e-learning centers and building software to help improve virtual learning outcomes.
Chris has presented on this student data topic at the 2022 Digital Learning Annual Conference and will also be presenting at Quality Matters’ 2022 QM Connect conference November 6-9 in Tuscon, AZ.
His goal is to be able to help people prosper and succeed in today’s challenging educational environment.