School data is at the forefront of education, often occupying space in key moments of newscasts. Politicians have allowed states to adopt tests to assess the skill levels of students. These tests are frequently adjusted, modified, changed. These changes can sometimes create shifts in student performance year over year. Is school testing data truly valid?
Whether we really believe in a particular test’s validity, we can follow shifts within our own school demographic’s performance to value if students are learning what that test measures. However, often schools take the wrong approach when looking at the data. It frustrates school leaders to see the data drop, especially when the drop is sharp.
I define a school leader as an administrator, or their designee, who is in charge of leading efforts to improve school performance. Just like the corporate environment, school leaders are directly responsible for student outcomes, whether those outcomes are traditional grades or standardized tests. There are four actions that I see as crucial to improving school performance:
1.) The School Must Always Have A Plan
It’s great to see the data, but what are the direct actions that must be taken to improve performance? Too often schools follow the most recent trend. They look for a cookie-cutter answer or solution. This makes absolutely no sense because schools have fully different demographics with different needs. What is right for a rural school may or may not be right for an inner-city school. School leaders must form a plan of action. That plan must have definitive actions to be taken rather than just ideas that will never see fruition. Most importantly, that plan must be elaborately explained to teachers so the teachers can implement it in the classroom, the “front lines” of education. A school leader without a solid action plan might need to start looking for new employment.
2.) School Leaders Must Listen
How many requests by teachers does it take to get school leaders to truly listen to teacher ideas? The teacher is the delivery messenger that carries the knowledge, skills, and messages for delivery to the students. Most teachers today are as highly-educated as their school leaders. Teachers are also at ground-level. They see and hear it all. They truly know their students’ abilities and needs. Unless a school leader listens (truly listens, not pretends) to teachers, they may as well be pink-slipped.
3.) Leaders Must Address School Culture
Today’s student lives in an interruptive culture and often disruptive environment. If a school doesn’t set a high enough bar of expectations (academic, social, organizational), students will suffer. Students, all students, will go wherever the bar is set. People overall as humans like challenges. Last time I looked, students are people so setting the bar high should both challenge and work. Why is it that we ask so little of students and parents? Students want challenges because challenges are exciting and fun. A school without strong cultural expectations for students and parents will soon find itself closed. That also means the school leaders are looking for work.
4.) Leaders Must Advocate School Culture Widely
Picture this: a school where every student arrives daily to school knowing that they are going to have to think, but also knowing thinking at high levels will be fun! Students are the front lines. They’re the ones school leaders and teachers are supposed to educate. Why are so many school corporations and school leaders afraid to advocate a culture full of challenges? A culture that asks students and parents to have the highest of expectations? A culture that will accept nothing less than the top? Seems like our school leaders can, if they so choose, get this done.
My point here is that school data shows directly the schools without strong plans, strong cultures, and strong expectations. It quickly identifies schools with poor leadership. The delivery point of all schools do is the classroom. School leaders can do much better. Our taxes pay their salaries. They owe our students a well-planned map that leads to high levels of success.
James Pearce has been teaching for 20 years as a high school English/Language Arts teacher. He is also certified to teach high school biology. He has an MS in Public Relations from the renowned Boston University School of Communication and an MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. He lives with his wife (also a teacher), two kids, and two dogs in Fishers, IN in the heartland of America.