Why Data Analysis Is an Important Skill for School Principals

Data is everywhere — and it goes beyond the business, technological spaces we often associate it with. Education professionals can and should use data, too, for any number of decision-making and problem-solving strategies.

An online Master of Education (MEd) in Administration from Lamar University enables classroom teachers to transition into leadership roles. However, this program uses a progressive and holistic methodology that provides students with a specialized, research-based approach to managing students, parents, teachers and public policymakers. While inclusion and ‘continuous learning’ are benchmarks of Lamar University’s program, its focus on data analysis guarantees that graduates from this program are well suited for 21st century challenges.

1. Teaching Experience

One way principals can use data is for staffing and teacher performance. For example, staffing a school with a significant number of teachers, by percentage, who have fewer than four years of experience can have damaging repercussions.

In Georgia, new teachers work under a probationary license before they receive their state-sanctioned certificate. Resources from the offices of School Improvement and Federal Programs at the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) include a prime example of a dataset that principals utilize to improve campus culture. If the percentage of faculty members who hold a probationary certificate is much higher than those with professional credentials, this speaks volumes about the level of mastery at a school and where improvement can be made.

School leaders should have an understanding of why data not based on assessment criteria is key to diagnosing a potential campus growth area. The Brookings Institution maintains that “teacher mobility patterns play an important role in the equitable education of all students, and there is strong evidence of inequities in access to highly effective instruction across schools and districts.” Lamar’s program helps teachers and principals use data to recognize that this level of turnover is dangerous and “negatively associated with student achievement.”1

2. Classroom Culture

Another means for principals to use data is for improving classroom culture. Measuring a teacher’s perception of ‘Social and Emotional Learning’ (SEL) is challenging because it is both qualitative and highly subjective.

Colorado’s Department of Education has adopted the use of non‐assessment data to inform school improvement efforts. Their findings prove that using data for more than testing purposes is highly productive. For students, feeling safe and supported is impacted by the teacher’s comfort level while instructing the class. Therefore, educators must be acutely aware of their legitimacy and effectiveness while investing in best practices for different groups of students based on their social and emotional needs. If an educator does not perceive these SEL indicators as crucial to their students’ success, that would be of great concern to an administrator trying to implement a program like this at their school.

A causal relationship between SEL and the resulting assessment data is difficult given the intervening variables, but SEL is often related to the presence of academic growth across all sub-populations. Graduates of Lamar University’s MEd in Administration online program are equipped with the data analysis skills to decide how to measure SEL perception. Leadership should be able to analyze and convey data across disciplines and positions. Future practices will highlight the positive correlation between SEL and instructional growth — and for student mastery and teacher confidence.

Edutopia has featured a New Mexico School for the Arts’ decision to place a heavier focus on data and found that “it is intrinsically motivating when both teachers and students see how their efforts are leading to success.” Thinking about a teacher’s comfort level while instructing students is progressive, and new, normative data must be considered with the proper training and academic expertise.

3. Access to Data

Teacher Magazine suggests that campuses create a “data warehouse.” A space to store information is crucial, as is a system to determine how best to use that data. Leaders must consider who would benefit the most from the collected information. For the case of principals, by locating the data in a central location, principals can expect more from their faculty and staff and accomplish instructional growth goals.

Storing data in a central location is a prerequisite to this level of analysis. Options include but are not limited to “tracking cohorts or students over time … linking data from different sources … quick and easy access to data.” Another example includes running reports “that weren’t otherwise possible, ultimately providing new insights.”

The inability to evolve with the demands of the field is a point of great apprehension for search committees across the country that interview potential principals, deans, directors and superintendents. However, Lamar’s M.Ed. in Administration online program provides a certain level of data savviness for teachers pursuing the path of a school principal. Graduates don’t just interpret data; they find new ways of using it to improve their methods.

Learn more about Lamar University’s online Master of Education in Administration program.

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