Administrators and Data Conversations

Tad Sherman—a new education blogger who is writing about his experiences as an assistant principal over at The New AP—caught my eye the other day when he left the following comment on my Data Nightmare post:

One of the things that stood out to me was the number of times you said "I can" as you discussed all of the things that can be done with data.

As a person recently coming out of the classroom and moving into the role of assistant principal I suppose the thing that I think of is how can we move from "I (the teacher) can" to "My administrators do". Does that make sense?

What I'm getting at is the idea that as school administrators we need to be crunching the numbers and giving you the data in a way that easily read and understood.

This means that you spend more time adapting your instruction based on data. You know…the idea of "Data Driven Decision Making"!

Any other administrators out there? Is it realistic for us to be the number crunchers so our teachers can focus on instruction? I know I hope to be an administrator that can do that!

Great observation, Tad.  I love the distinction that you made between "I can" and "My administrator will" when it comes to crunching numbers primarily because it is the exact same distinction that Rick DuFour made in our recent conversation about professional learning communities. 

His point—made in response to my contention that data driven decision making is almost impossible for me because crunching numbers isn't something that I'm trained to do or that I have the time for—is that data driven decision making should NEVER be something that is overwhelming for learning teams.  For DuFour, administrators have the responsibility for providing teachers with data that has already been scrubbed and is ready for interpretation.

And if I understand administration correctly, this makes a lot of sense. 

From what I can tell, administrators have access to a TON more data than teachers have access to.  At least here in our county, there are pretty sophisticated online warehouses of data that administrators can access but that are closed to teachers.  Also, I often hear administrators talking about data presentations that they attend at the county level where district experts help to interpret learning trends and patterns.  Finally—and you can answer this for me—I suspect that the coursework for today's administrators includes some kind of data manipulation and analysis classes.

Now, I understand that not all administrators are going to be natural data pros, but in those cases, I think it is an administrator's job to repurpose a faculty position to become what I call "the data workhorse," whose primary responsibility would be to help gather, manipulate and present numbers to learning teams.  Heck, really innovative principals could identify and compensate one teacher leader per grade level to serve as data workhorses, solving a data nightmare and stratifying the teaching profession all at the same time.

My worry, though, is that this kind of "administrators will do" attitude hasn't taken hold doesn't in most schools.  In fact, most of the administrators that I speak to believe that teachers MUST do their own data collection, manipulation and analysis.  "That's a new skill that they're responsible for now that we're a PLC," one recently told me, "so they'd better figure it out!"

What's more, I get that administrators are in no better place than teachers when it comes to time and training.  Between handling discipline, organizing transportation, dealing with hiring, completing evaluations and supervising lunchrooms, most administrators that I know work all day, every day.  They certainly don't have heaping barrells of extra time to take on new tasks either.

To complicate matters, I'm even a little concerned that if we provide teachers with data that is scrubbed, we might just be taking away valuable learning opportunities.  While sifting through piles of numbers is killing me, it does force me to slow down and look carefully at information.  I know more about my kids now than ever before because I've been forced to do the heavy lifting when it comes to data.

But if we want to make data a priority—-which we probably all agree is the only responsible decision in a world where every child deserves the best education we can offer—then something needs to give.   Either teachers need the tools, time and training to make data manipulation possible, or administrators need to take on that role so that the only data responsibility left to teachers in drawing instructional conclusions. 

The "just figure it out" approach just isn't working.

Any of this make sense?


7 thoughts on “Administrators and Data Conversations

  1. Angela Stockman

    Hmmm….I’m wondering if it’s possible that teachers actually have access to DIFFERENT rather than LESS data, as compared to their administrative colleagues.
    Isn’t it important for teachers to capture data from classroom formative assessments as well? To clarify–I refer to assessment as a verb here, rather than a noun.
    In my work, I’m finding that this data provides essential information….and without it….I’m not sure any amount of “scrubbing” will help us serve kids well.
    Do you agree that data are more than what can be mined from a warehouse? And if so….isn’t it important to communicate that message to those who are making data-driven decisions? It’s my hunch that much of the data backlash has to do with misperceptions around what data truly are and the ways in which we can capture and making meaning from them.
    It’s been my experience that when we value the work of teachers and kids and encourage them to capture data during guided practice, instructional change and improvements in student performance follow in shorter measure. These measures can inform the others that you speak to here as well. In fact, many would say that they have to, in order to draw meaningful conclusions. Agree or no?

  2. Bob Heiny

    Insightful post, Mr. Bill, and useful comments that are consistent with some instructional protocols designed to provide databased instructional decisions. Glad to see that you’re exploring this approach more precisely.

  3. Scott

    Great post. I’ve been working awhile to get at data to drive better decision-making, in education, health, and government, and make it more accessible via graphical displays. (
    I’ve recently been working with the Wing Institute ( in Oakland, CA, on getting evidence-based education data out among education leaders. We won’t have it published on their site for a few weeks, but one of the standouts is the value of ‘rapid assessment’ (of students, multiple times per week) in the classrooom, both from absolute improvement in student performance, but also in cost-effectiveness. So clearly, teachers need the tools and time to interpret the data and decide how to alter their teaching.
    In the coming months, we’ll be looking through more research material to see what else will help educators, parents, and policymakers deliver the best to the next generation.
    Keep up the great work!
    Scott Gibson
    ‘worth a thousand words’

  4. Mike Fisher

    I read both of your posts, and am impressed at the level that you let data inform your instructional decisions. You are most definitely in the minority and in fact, data is one of the first places I start in a lot of the workshops I do…
    I think it would be a great idea for admins to pre-sort the data, but not totally scrub it–teachers need to understand a little of the deconstruction process, especially as it relates to trends over time and identified gaps.
    Additionally, you mentioned that the Blue Diamond software doesn’t dig deeply enough to identify skills within objectives. I know the intention of your post was not to make people smile–but I did. It’s rare in this day and age for teachers to understand how content and skills relate to standards and how aligned assessments need to be in place in order to gauge understanding and proficiency. It’s something I struggle with in PD all the time. Many times, teachers do things only because they’ve always been done that way–but I hope the tide is turning and the paradigms are shifting!
    Buy beyond the data–this post made me really think about how articulate teachers need to be lately about what they do. I think administrators need to be just as transparent about their responsibilities, and how they provide evidence for the actions that inform those responsibilities, in the same way you assess aligned content and skills. Hmmm…I smell my own blog post brewing…
    PS. How’s that baby? Hope you guys are sleeping! -Mike

  5. TeachMoore

    Tad Sherman (and you, Bill) make a great point about how the division of labor or rather the colLABORation within a school should work. There is certainly some information about student performance that can only be gathered at the classroom level. That needs to be paired with other forms to get a more complete picture of each student’s strengths and needs. Also, as a classroom teacher, I was often given standardized test data that was of no use in actually helping students or in adjusting my instruction. In that case, we were able to explain the problem and got support to do other more appropriate assessments. It was the teamwork that made the difference for the students and the teachers.

  6. michelle

    “teachers MUST do their own data collection, manipulation and analysis” is definitely the attitude at my school. Recently we were given a ton of school wide data to analyze as a department. Now I think the math dept and the science dept were probably successful however from conversations with other teachers the electives and english just floundered around not really knowing what to do. There are good people capable of this in every school who would be able to put it in language that we can all understand and use.

  7. Joel Zehring

    I wish I had taken more statistics in high school and college. Calculus has proved virtually useless for me in my sixth grade classroom.
    Arthur Benjamin agrees:

    The word “data” has been dragged through the mud recently. It’s been politicized to mean multiple choice test scores.
    I’m really fortunate to work for a principal who recognizes the importance of quantitative and qualitative data. He encourages us to leverage multiple choice test scores, and he also encourages us to share our observations made “in the trenches”. He encourages teachers to observe each other and students in other classrooms to find objective evidence that will lead to student achievement.

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