A colleague and I were discussing data-based decision-making at schools – for example, looking at reading results, finding student strengths and weaknesses and making educational decisions from there. I was immediately intrigued and wondered why it never occurred to me to look at any data before designing the Language Framework at the Netherlands Inter-community School (NIS). Upon reflection, I realized that the reason I never looked at data was because the data was irrelevant; it was based on a broken system. Plugging the holes in that broken system wouldn’t have helped us to arrive at the new vision, which was to connect all subjects through language. The holes existed because an Educational Framework wasn’t there in the first place – the school had no plan of action.
In the future, if I was asked to design an Educational Framework based on a school’s existing data, I would decline. Data can be skewed, and data can only tell you there are issues, but it cannot tell why those issues occurred – that is guess work. There are too many unknown variables. Also, as I mentioned above, an Educational Framework is based on a school’s vision – its future goals. A framework is also cohesive by design, with the aim of connecting staff and all subject areas in a unified manner. Data isn’t cohesive, so creating solutions based on the data collected across all subject areas leads to multiple stand-alone solutions. Yes, you may plug some holes with those stand-alone solutions, but will that create a cohesive teaching culture? Will those solutions align with the school’s vision? I don’t believe so. Could I plug the holes the data reveals with stand-alone planners? Certainly, however those stand-alone planners, without the over-arching framework, would not help in creating a cohesive teaching culture, nor would they necessarily do justice to a school’s vision.
Does this mean I would discount looking at data? Absolutely not. Had I stayed on at NIS, data would have become an important factor in planning the school’s future. Once an Educational Framework is in place, evidence would need to be collected from year to year. The difference is that there would be a clear system in place to further student learning – the cohesive set of planners that accompany the framework. These planners could always be adjusted to push teachers in new directions, which in turn would lead to improvement in student results in whichever areas the school wishes.
A clearly defined vision with an accompanying Educational Framework (plan of action) must be established before data can be collected and used as a basis for decision-making, otherwise a school is merely plugging holes in an already sinking ship.