How to Build a School Culture that Supports Data-Driven Planning

data-driven planning
(Image credit: belastock)

How do you build a school culture that ensures your student data is safe as well as use that data to inform planning for instruction? 

Tech & Learning spoke with Andrea Tejedor, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction & Technology at the ‎Highland Falls-Fort Montgomery Central School District in New York, about how district leaders have created this culture by involving all stakeholders to ensure they have the necessary systems and training in place to collect and utilize data safely and effectively. 

 Building the Culture 

The Highland Falls-Fort Montgomery Central School District is a unique collection of small schools 45 minutes north of Manhattan that also includes students from nearby West Point Military Academy. The eclectic demographics of the district makes it crucial that data is collected from all students to ensure a continuous instructional plan that meets the needs of all students is being delivered. 

“Over the past five years, we’ve focused on how we used data to drive decision making,” says Tejedor. “We start the process by looking at data from an annualized perspective. We create a data calendar that starts in July when we review the data collected from the previous year.

“We include attendance, absenteeism, performance on exams, and really looking at things from a 360 perspective,” she says. “We also collect data on student participation in activities and clubs to make sure students have access to those opportunities, too. We are not just focused on academics but well-rounded arts and leadership as well.”

The district follows this three-step process: 

  1.  Collect the data 
  2.  Create a data set for the board to review 
  3.  The board then uses that data set to create its goals

“That goal-setting is a collaborative process that involves the central office and also our building principals, assistant principals, and our program directors,” says Tejedor. 

To keep everyone informed, data is collected throughout the year and shared through a series of newsletters. Data is used to inform conversations about meeting student needs, such as RTI, special education, and regular academic programs.

“I know there can be concerns in terms of ‘collecting data,’ especially if we are sharing this data with outside vendors and those outside the system” says Tejedor. “But this data collection is an internal process only.”

 Using Data to Plan for Online Instruction 

“Our collection process has shifted because we’re using information about where students are in terms of showing up for instruction,” says Tejedor. “Our continuity of learning plan for online learning has really focused on: Have we heard from our students? Do we know where they are? That’s the first data point that’s crucial as we’ve made this pivot to remote learning.” 

The district uses Google Meet and Google Classroom as ways to provide instruction, and takes a “triage” approach in their data collection:

  •  Making contact with the students 
  •  Making sure those students are showing up for synchronous classes 
  •  Making sure those students are completing their assignments 

“Teachers are essential to this process,” says Tejedor. “They are meeting with the kids all the time. If they believe a student might need resources in order to attend the online classes, they work with the principal to make outreach to the family and then have the families let us know if they need anything so that the student will be successful in this new learning environment.”

The district will even have social workers go out to homes to make sure parents have Internet access, that their devices are working properly, and just to check in on students and make sure they’re safe and have what they need. 

Advice to Districts Looking to Set Up a Similar Data-Driven Planning Process 

The first thing Tejedor recommends when setting up an effective data-driven decision-making culture is to determine your district’s readiness.

“We’ve been looking at data for a long time and started using the vocabulary related to student data and student data privacy,” she reports. 

She suggests asking questions such as:

  •  Do we have the policies in place to support it? 
  •  Do we have senior leadership buy in? 
  •  Are the Board and administrators comfortable with using data to set goals and work with teachers to use data to assess student learning needs? 
  •  Do we have the budget to buy a data management system that can house everything and allow us to look for trends? 
  •  Do we have the personnel to work with the teachers and set up systems for making data-driven decisions? 
  •  Do we have the personnel to train teachers on what it means to collect and use data as well as be cognizant of data privacy requirements, such as managing passwords? 

“We include this information in our new teacher orientation so that the training process of what data privacy means really starts as soon as you enter the district and it continues through ongoing safety training to help teachers identify things such as phishing emails and what you need to do to keep your own personal data safe,” says Tejedor. 

Tejedor says this process started at the central district level, with readiness assessed at the building level. 

Having conversations with teachers and administrators about setting up data systems and processes is key to creating a school culture that ensures student data is safe, as well as developing a strategy for the effective use of that data. 

“We have to look at all levels of the organizations, and then we can make those decisions,” says Tejedor. 

Christine Weiser is the Content and Brand Director for Tech & Learning, and has been with the company since 2008. She has reported on education for most of her career, working at Scholastic and Gale Publishing before joining Tech & Learning. Christine is also an author and musician, and lives in Philadelphia with her husband and son.