Data-Focused Decision Making: One School's Journey

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Virginia Tech

The use and analysis of data has become a keystone in national policy for educational improvement and a foundational condition in the award of federal grant monies (U.S. Department of Education, 2008, 2009a, 2009b, 2010). Principals are expected to lead their schools in the use of data and are accountable for adequate yearly progress (AYP) for the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Effective use of data can move educators toward student centric learning plans and interventions which improve achievement. While current literature emphasizes the importance of assessment data used to guide sound instructional decisions, gathering scores and generating reports by grade and level does little at individual schools unless there is strong site-based leadership to guide faculty and staff in targeting areas of improvement, implementing a plan, monitoring progress, and adjusting actions.

This qualitative case study describes how the principal's leadership guided a journey of data-focused decision making at one middle school. This dissertation describes use of data in decision-making processes to promote student learning from the perspective of a school which has been implementing data-focused decision making for several years and was selected for its established use of student assessment data. This research focused on the processes individuals and groups use to better understand and use data within a school context and the role of school leaders in supporting these actions.

The intent of this case study is to describe and understand how school leaders make the use of data an integral part of the operation within a middle school in a large suburban mid-Atlantic school district. By looking at how principals embed data analysis and interpretation in the decision-making processes of the school and engage teachers in the use of data to promote student learning, findings could be useful as a guide to other educational leaders as they implement site based actions and related professional development for school-based leaders and teachers.

professional learning communities, data-driven decision making, school improvement, data use