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Data retreats need a new name.

It’s August. It’s data retreat time for school districts across the country. But here’s the thing about a data retreat. First, when I think “retreat,” that’s not really what I have in mind. (Really, it’s more of a secluded cabin in the woods and on a lake, but I digress). Even more importantly, there are oftentimes issues with the data itself.

In order to have an effective data retreat, you need the right data, and the right people need access.

The right data?

First, the right data. You have your demographic data. You have your assessment data. But to best plan over the short and long term, you also need perceptions data. This is feedback from your key stakeholders, including staff, students, and parents. Otherwise, you’re missing a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Perceptions data helps you answer the why. Why do parents of high school students feel a particular way? Why do some students feel safer at school than others? Why do your staff engagement reports look lower than last year?

Without the why, your data is lacking nuance. It’s lacking the story.

And you can’t fix a problem unless you’re able to clearly articulate what the problem is.

Our survey reports can help you understand the story of your school district, but who needs to know that story?

The right people?

Here, we don’t have a clear-cut answer for you because the answer to this question will vary district-to-district. Nevertheless, after you have data, make sure the right people can access the data. Make sure your staff and/or stakeholders understand the story of the data but allow them to interpret data as well.

Think of it this way.

When I was teaching, there was a strong push to not only maintain literacy achievement but improve it as well. I wasn’t involved in the data retreats. Therefore, I didn’t understand well why this particular goal rose to the top. Literacy is important. That part is obvious. But because I wasn’t there I didn’t understand why, say, this goal took precedence over achievement in a different area. That became an issue because when everything is important, nothing is important. I couldn’t see the literacy data.

Secondly, and relatedly, I didn’t always have easy access to students’ literacy scores for the kiddos in my classroom. Which of my kids were the strongest readers? Which were the weakest? I knew most of it just from being a classroom teacher, but it sure was helpful to have some numbers behind my anecdotal data.

My point is this: after you understand the story of your data, don’t keep your cards too close to your chest. Make sure that other stakeholders—whether they be board members, your teachers, or parents—can access the data so that they know why what you deem is important is the right way to go. Otherwise, they’ll be guessing and may not buy in to the extent you’d like.

The School Perceptions Blog and Resource Center features the voices of our team members. This post was written by Rob DeMeuse, Research Director & Project Manager.


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