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Data Accessibility is Still a Principal Concern

Principals have significant talent management responsibilties, but are they always equipped with the best tools for the job? Probably not, according to a May, 2014 report. What can district leaders do to better support these efforts?

John Jennings

Managing Editor

According to a May 2014 report from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College (Goldring, et. al.), principals are placing a high priority on data accessibility, while also requesting more support for data use in the talent management process.

When principals were presented with a list of ideas to help in evaluating teacher effectiveness data, the top five responses were all indicative of a desire for improved data accessibility and utility. Schuermann, et. al. provide some helpful recommendations for school districts, but what are the primary takeaways for the CTOs and superintendents charged with supporting these efforts? 


Access to data from home            

(66% thought this was an “excellent idea,” 30% thought it was a “good idea,” and only 4% thought it was a “poor or extremely poor idea”)

Client-based data dashboards just don’t cut it anymore. Mobility is a key aspect of the principal’s role, and high-achieving administrators can’t afford to be constrained by a desk (or a network, for that matter).

An online analytics solution gives principals the option to log in from any device with an Internet connection, enabling these school leaders to analyze and strategize at their convenience, far away from the environmental stressors of the workplace.


Access to teachers’ prior evaluation and student achievement scores when hiring  


Obtaining pertinent data for teachers coming from outside the district can be a tricky proposition. Disparate evaluation systems, student achievement measures, and data systems all contribute to an unrecognizable mass of information that offers little value to the hiring process.

Common data standards such as Ed-Fi should improve the efficacy of historical data by making it possible for a teacher’s previous school to send relevant documentation in one, easy-to-import file.

District-to-district transfer capabilities already exist in some information systems at the student level – not to mention transcripts, which can be created and sent with the click of a button. Why should teacher performance data not be equally portable?


Having data in one location  


“Integration” has long been a buzzword among education technology vendors, and it remains a major challenge for many schools and districts throughout the country. Some schools are using three or more different vendors to track student, human resources, and financial information, all of which are crucial to a principal’s evaluation of teacher effectiveness.

Few districts have implemented a role-based data dashboard system to consolidate this information, so principals are often forced to log in to multiple systems, juggle a multitude of browser windows, and manually enter data just to get the information they need to make informed decisions.

Whether your district chooses a fully integrated solution or prefers to go “best of breed” for your school administration needs, a consolidated dashboard is a must. Principals should be able to focus their efforts on leading and developing teachers, not plugging numbers into Excel.


Support on making sense of different types of data  


It says something about the educational data movement when the problem of “I don’t have enough data” has been replaced with “I have mountains of data and don’t know what to do with it.” Cliché or not, this is a good problem to have!

Principals’ comfort level and experience with data as a resource for talent management decisions varies across the discipline and even within district boundaries. Principals are generally open to more support when it comes to identifying appropriate uses for data, but how can technology help them get it?  Even as more and more teachers head online to share best practices and refine their instruction, a majority of the principals who took part in this study preferred to receive training in small group settings, often with peers from their own district.

Technology can facilitate this process by providing role-specific communication platforms, where principals can share reporting templates, map teacher effectiveness data to professional development, and bounce ideas off of each other. Principals that walk into an existing data system might benefit from a vendor-provided training or consultation session, or even just a brief sit-down with a more experienced user.


Central/home office staff skilled at creating and interpreting data reports  


This item appears to be more a product of the complex legacy reporting systems that many schools have been using for decades. In the new world of easy-to-manipulate, GUI report writers, interpretation should be intuitive and report creation should no longer be relegated to the district techies.

Principals may find value in calling a meeting with support staff early in the school year to outline their vision for the types of information (including category weights) that they want to review when assessing teacher performance. Direct collaboration will give the support staff enough time and background knowledge to build personalized reports and add them to the principals’ dashboard early in the year, so they are readily available when the time comes.

The case studies available on the Principal Data Use website provide prime examples of how some of our schools’ most effective leaders are using data to reinvest in the development of their teachers. It was inspiring to read these specific examples of data being used to identify developmental opportunities and improve the student learning experience, as opposed to just assigning rank. 

District leaders have a crucial role to play in establishing the infrastructure and data-literate culture that can help make this wish list a reality. Robust technology, combined with an effective talent management strategy, can result in more qualified teacher candidates and improved professional growth for existing staff.

Want to learn more about using data to be a more effective principal? Check out our Quick Hits video series for some 2-minute tips to help you get more out of your technology.


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