It Takes a Village: A Guide to Creating a Data-Informed School Culture

Data has changed the way we make decisions – from what movies we watch to how baseball teams find players. Why, then, are our schools forced to sift through spreadsheets, wrestle with student information systems, or wait weeks for assessment results? The actionable data is out there of course, no teacher would argue with that. Figuring out how to wrangle and ensure data is being recorded is another story.

Creating a sustainable, data-informed culture can help drastically transform your school, making qualitative improvements based on quantitative information, and making smart schools smarter. A sustainable culture needs sustainable solutions. Why not start today?

This guide will highlight the efforts of New Beginnings Family Academy, a Pre-K through 8th grade school in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Sci Academy, a college prep high school in New Orleans. Both schools provide examples of how creating a unified, data-informed culture and embracing technology drastically improves their schools.

We are better together.

For data to truly transform the way we look at education, we must involve every part of the educational community: Students, Teachers, Parents, Administrators, and beyond. Information leads to accountability across the school spectrum, meaning everyone works to better the learning experience for our students … including the students themselves.

Giving every stakeholder efficient access to the data they need is essential. At Sci Academy, data transparency empowers students. Every Monday students receive a progress report with a full breakdown of their performance from the previous week. This report details their current attendance, academic, and behavioral status. Over time, students at Sci Academy come to rely on their weekly progress reports. Teachers find that students become increasingly invested in their academic progress when they are given the opportunity to engage with the results of that progress.

Access to this information enables Sci Academy students to proactively address items in their report. Taking the initiative to talk to teachers about their progress helps students develop the soft skills they will need to succeed in college and in the work force. Access to hard data provides benefits for all educational stakeholders: Students gain instant awareness of their academic progress. They can also self-monitor their behavioral trends. One bincident away from a detention? That information is readily available.

Students become acutely aware of the impact of their actions. There are consequences for negative behavior and praise for positive behavior and good academic outcomes.

For data to truly transform the way we look at education, we must involve every educational stakeholder.

Families also receive an in-depth look into their child’s education. Data takes all the guesswork out of whether their child skipped school, missed an assignment, or acted out in class. Parents also know when their child reaches an academic milestone, or succeeds outside the classroom. Data empowers parents to remain involved in school culture.

Teachers can immediately discern trouble areas for students and work to correct them before those at risk fall too far behind. The ability to communicate these issues and successes with students, parents, and administrators builds rapport and trust within the school community. Administrators can see the performance of both their students and staff in real time. They are also able to engage the broader school community in a constructive manner and cement trust between schools and families.

Working smarter means having the right tools.

If families and teachers are forced to dig for their data or work too hard to enter it, they’ll eventually stop looking, stop inputting. Meanwhile, the right data empowers administrators and teachers to spend more of their time on instruction. By using the right tools to crunch the numbers, teachers are free to focus on building trust in the community, developing school culture, and adapting their lesson plans to meet the needs of their students.

Many schools already recognize the value of incorporating data into educational decision-making, but the zeal for data often creates an avalanche. Organizing that data and generating specific actionable intelligence is difficult — especially when the data lives across a variety of different mediums. Instead of spending most of their time acting on data, teachers are wasting time wrestling with papers, spreadsheets, and disparate collections of databases. Which leads us to the need to use the right tools.

Moving the decision-making process out of the world of instinct and into a data-informed one affected Sci Academy’s results in interesting ways.

When Sci Academy moved to a central data system, the difference was staggering. It provided faculty, staff, and administration with a holistic view of their students at a global level. Thanks to ease of entry, the documentation collected was also more consistent than the old approach, which relied on stitching together scraps of paper. With everyone on the education team working from the same playbook, Sci Academy demonstrated that doing more with less is possible.

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Challenging assumptions and filling the gaps.

Once buy-in across staff and families is achieved you can really start to spot the trends that can improve school culture. Challenging assumptions and understanding how and why people make decisions improves the relationships and initiatives within your school’s community. New Beginnings initiated an overhaul of their school culture at the same time that they started to embrace the data-driven education approach. Data has helped New Beginnings to understand the effectiveness of their new programs and to adjust them as necessary.

Once they were easily able to build clear reports, the school began to recognize that only students who were having trouble academically or behaviorally were receiving feedback. Students who earned good grades and behaved at school did not receive the same amount of communication. Without the tools to analyze school data, New Beginnings had assumed all students were receiving equal feedback. This discovery led to a culture shift where teachers ensured that every student received comments on their progress reports and positive phone calls home. Teachers got into the habit of documenting positive behaviors just as much as negative ones, creating h3er relationships with their students.

Committing to data.

Presenting student data to parents and students alike is very easy to do when you have the right school management system at your disposal. Providing this type of access reinforces your school’s commitment to transparency and accountability. Everyone from administrators and teachers to parents and school medical staff should have the capability and support to successfully track and read data.

Take the school nurse, for example. New Beginnings has a policy that students who vomit at school need to wait twenty-four hours before returning to school. The nurse can record the incident in the school data system, and teachers will know not to expect that student the next day. Or say a student is suddenly ill every Tuesday at 1pm, when they should be in gym class. The nurse is able to easily see that information and relay it to the student’s teachers so they can get to the root of the issue.

A vision for better education is built on data.

There is no need to rely on gut feeling, intuition, or spidey-sense when you know exactly what your strengths are and how you can leverage those strengths to address the pain points that have crept into your school. Data generates actionable intelligence.

Both of the institutions mentioned above have something in common: they share a desire for data-driven results and they rely on Schoolrunner to provide them with the tools to keep them informed.

Schoolrunner brings all of your data into one place, crunches the numbers, and presents the data to you in the way you want to see it. Your current student information system can be piped into Schoolrunner, so the task that took you five hours to put together last week will only take minutes once Schoolrunner is in your corner.

The ability to take informed action exists at every grade level. From screening four-year-olds in Pre-K to helping you get your students to the finish line of graduation, Schoolrunner gives you whatever information you want at the click of a button. Or at the tap of a screen. Yes, Schoolrunner even has a mobile app so teachers can record information in the hallways, at recess, or any other location on campus.

Need to call a student’s parent? The number is right in the student’s profile and can be accessed in no time at all. The app even prompts users to document the call after it’s finished and the information is still fresh. In a matter of weeks, you’ll be maximizing your school’s educational prowess with Schoolrunner. It’s that easy.

New Beginnings and Sci Academy are just two schools that show how powerful and effective using data is in an educational setting. What they’ve done is impressive. Schoolrunner simply makes smart schools even smarter

We invite you to see what Schoolrunner can do for your school. Test our responsiveness firsthand by emailing us at hello@schoolrunner.org and we’ll quickly answer any questions you might have about our school data solutions.

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