Hello, my name is Melissa Maras, and I am an assistant professor at the University of Missouri. Schools are complex, interdisciplinary contexts always in flux with new and evolving policies, programs, and practices, all resulting in a rich mess of data that should be used in school-based evaluation, but is often difficult to navigate. Below are some ideas and resources that may be helpful in traversing the current topography of data in schools.
Hot Tip: Learn how schools are organized. This reveals how different programs (and data) are situated within the organization. Albeit oversimplified, schools can be divided loosely by what all students v. some students get and what is directly related to academics v. what is not. The first distinction helps us understand general and special education, the second divides the three R’s of education from health, mental health, and social service supports. Considerable data collected in schools today are used to identify who (all or some) should get what resources and, ideally, if those resources are effective.
Hot Tip: Learn about major initiatives churning up data in our nation’s schools (e.g., Positive Behavior Supports, PBS; http://www.pbis.org/; and Response to Intervention, RtI, http://www.rti4success.org/). Focused on behavior and academics, respectively, PBS and RtI use the public health model to organize school-wide systems of tiered supports that use data to drive resource allocation. Both have computer-based systems to help schools collect and use data (SWIS, School-wide Information System, http://www.swis.org/; AIMSweb, http://www.aimsweb.com/).
Hot Tip: All schools collect student data. Data quality and organization may not be ideal, but all schools have data on academic achievement, attendance, free-and-reduced lunch, suspensions/expulsions, and graduation. Regardless of relative value to an evaluation, school personnel use considerable resources to collect data and it’s important to acknowledge these efforts. This is also a terrific and relatively easy place to build their evaluation capacity.
Hot Tip: Talk to school counselors, nurses, and social workers. They are collecting some kind of data and, because they are more likely to have training in some evaluation-related area, they can be valuable local (i.e., sustainable) resources. School counselors are increasingly called on to evaluate their guidance programs, and school nurses may use data collection resources associated with Coordinated School Health Program model (CSHP; http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/CSHP/index.htm).
Hot Tip: Ask for data, any data. See if schools are involved in any research, have informally collected feedback/satisfaction data, or have been tapped to participate in regional or national surveys (e.g., Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, PRIDE). Data access and quality will vary, but this is great information about a school’s previous evaluation experiences (good and bad). This is also an entry point to help schools advocate for themselves when folks come asking for data in the future.