Your unique data story: Determine where you’ve been and where to go next

Guest blogger: Katy Smith, product leader, research and data

We all love data, and we all have so much of it! But huge volumes of data about students, faculty and staff can make it difficult for educational leaders to use data to guide decision-making that empowers positive change and supports district outcomes.

With the right tools, K-12 leaders can uncover their unique stories using the data already collected in talent management systems, and use that actionable information to shape the next chapter.

1. Identification: Determine if what you “know” matches what the data tells you. If not, you have an opportunity to shift the story.

We all subscribe to different commonly held beliefs. For instance, I’ve heard this one before: it’s well known that substitute fill rates are lower on Mondays and Fridays because sometimes teachers just want to extend the weekend and call in sick last minute. Right? … Wrong.

TalentEd’s analysis of customers’ substitute management data found that same-day-notice absences are proportionally highest on Tuesdays, while also being proportionally lowest on Mondays and Fridays. Thus, it’s more likely that substitute availability is impacting fill rates — not unexpected teacher absences. This information can be used to inform a strategy of targeted substitute recruiting, which in this case would likely be more impactful than cracking down on teacher absences.

2. Investigation: Target your analysis and metrics to focus on the topic at hand.

When you put together the data to drive strategy and inform decisions, it’s important to stay focused. Ask yourself: What is the compelling problem you want to solve? What is the key decision you need to make? Deeply understanding a few key metrics and the factors that influence them can be much more helpful than tracking 20 surface-level metrics.

Your path to deep understanding might be a winding road of hypotheses and hunches that need to be proven and disproven with the additional data you analyze. But when you ultimately present the findings, save the detail for an appendix. Keeping your presentation focused on the pieces of the analysis that inform your conclusion and lead to action will help your audience follow along.

3. Communication: When you present your findings, understand and communicate what is ultimately at stake.

When it comes to data analysis, context is king. Losing sight of why you need to solve a problem or make a decision can result in a level of disinterest from your stakeholders, or poorly designed interventions. Both situations can lead to outcomes that are detrimental to faculty, staff or students.

For example, for most of the school districts and boards I work with, the reason for data analysis usually comes down to an anticipated impact on students, budgets or employees. Use the analysis to identify the impact of doing nothing, as well as the positive impact an intervention would have. Will student outcomes suffer if you don’t provide training for teachers to improve a particular teaching skill? Will employee morale decrease if your teachers constantly spend planning and lunch periods covering each other’s classes, contributing to attrition?

Using data analysis to make evidence-based decisions is paramount to success in today’s challenging K-12 education climate. For the largest positive impact, it’s important to stay focused on your unique story throughout the identification, investigation and communication of the topic you’re analyzing.

About the author
Katy Smith is a TalentEd Product Leader focused on empowering schools to use data that engages, informs and influences positive change. She’s spent the past 10 years delivering data insights that drive action at various companies. Katy holds a B.A. in economics from Armstrong Atlantic State University.


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