School Solutions                                          Page 57


Driving Performance With

Systemic Analytics     




Despite continued emphasis on systemic approaches to improvement, schools struggle to use data and information in a manner consistent with systems thinking. A holistic approach is required that focuses on the total school system by examining and understanding the interrelationships of school system components.

Currently, most schools follow “fix it” approaches to improvement, often in the form of data-team meetings or data retreats where teachers and administrators inductively slice and dice data and pore over assessment item analysis to develop a “silver bullet” in the form of a SMART goal. This approach is inherently nonsystemic because it encourages educators to isolate a specific component of the district’s curriculum.

Reshaped Thinking
Just as the food we eat shapes our bodies, the data and information we focus on shapes our thinking. Systemic approaches to school improvement require schools to move beyond digging down in the data and begin flying above the data. This allows us to see patterns; relationships emerge within the data and stimulates productive dialogue over the influences of larger systems.

Often, schools drive data-team meetings by focusing on isolated questions such as, “What are our areas of strength and weakness in reading performance?” Instead, systemic approaches focus on questions such as, “What do the relationships among our achievement, program, financial and stakeholder data tell us about the effectiveness of our structures to deliver high reading performance?”

Multiple Challenges
The challenges for local school districts to make this transition are both cultural and technical. Adopting systemic approaches to school improvement requires a commitment at all levels of the school system, from the board of education to classroom teachers. Boards of education must commit themselves to focus on macro strategic planning and governance. District-level administrators must align school improvement processes and personnel evaluations to the district strategic plan. They also must align the district’s data and information infrastructure so that teachers and administrators continually review information that is systemic.

Ensuring consistency of systemic types of information that boards of education, administrators and teachers focus on will align classroom, school and district learning targets and action plans. This alignment can have dramatic affects on student performance.

Integrated Model
Adopting systemic analytic models is challenging. Local growth models based on multiple measures provide a promising approach. These value-added growth models are built at the local school system level upon the existing assessment foundation and practices of the school district.

If developed well, local growth models align the information structure of school systems by providing a rigorous, defensible, yet simple model to integrate student achievement, program, financial and other data. The outcome is a single model to identify at-risk students, establish individual student growth targets, link student performance to teacher and administrator evaluation, and document return on investment for programs and interventions.

ECRA has partnered with nearly 1,000 school districts nationally. ECRA can help districts adopt more systemic approaches to school improvement by focusing on data and information infrastructure, growth models, leadership development, strategic planning and human resources.

John Gatta is president of ECRA Group based in Rosemont, Ill. E-mail: johngatta@ecragroup.com


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