The Role of Data in Continuous Improvement Planning

Posted by Courtney StevensO

February 18, 2020


At the Hoonuit 2019 Infinity Conference, Bradley Geise of Education for the Future shared his views on how data can optimize the school improvement planning process.

For educators who are committed to giving their students the best possible learning experience, the school improvement planning process can seem endless. It may seem like every new idea comes with a fresh challenge to overcome. Yet these obstacles stem from relying on an out-of-date framework. The school improvement planning process is due for a cultural shift — one that prioritizes data as a tool to facilitate real change.

Education for the Future, a non-profit initiative with California State University of Chico, is one of the organizations spearheading this paradigm shift. For over 25 years, EFF has helped school districts use data to identify critical areas for improvement and stay focused on the shared vision they have for their students.

At Hoonuit, we’re always looking for new ways to connect with industry leaders who share our passion for education powered by data-driven insights. That’s why we invited Bradley Geise from Education for the Future to be our keynote speaker at the Hoonuit 2019 Infinity Conference. He spoke about actionable data, making a difference, and EFF’s innovative improvement planning framework.

All Work Is a Process

According to Geise, EFF’s improvement planning framework breaks down into five steps based on the following questions:

  1. Where are we now?
  2. How did we get here?
  3. Where do we want to be?
  4. How are we going to get there?
  5. How do we know what we’re doing is making a difference?

These questions guide the natural progression of the improvement planning process and responding to them can help school administrators stay on track. Data analysis answers the first question effectively, but that’s not enough to propel administrators through the entire process.

Improvement planning has earned a reputation for being emotionally-driven, but just as many school districts fall short because they have an excess of data combined with a lack of actionable insights. Having data for data’s sake is counterproductive, and can be overwhelming for decision makers.

As such, Geise explained the two primary approaches to building a school improvement plan — the comprehensive needs assessment perspective and problem-solving perspective — and detailed how data fits into each. A comprehensive needs assessment perspective tracks trends and patterns over time according to a variety of metrics like demographics and location. A problem-solving methodology applies that data to issues like absenteeism in order to improve student outcomes.

Continuous school improvement planning is most effective when school administrators combine these two approaches. As the Education for the Future motto states, “all work is a process,” and it starts with data. Yet data — no matter how valuable — is only the beginning. Standard data analysis is beneficial for compliance and accountability, but a holistic framework for improvement planning powers a shared vision for improvement.

How Data Facilitates Real Change for Students

So how does the information gathered from the school improvement planning process become real change for students and educators? This hurdle is the most challenging of all, but EFF offers a compelling solution. Geise’s number one key to facilitating change after developing a rigorous plan is to deeply understand the process and internalize what that means before moving on to implementation.

“At the core of this work is understanding the same thinking that created the problem won’t solve it,” he explains. “We have to stop in between and think differently about our programs and processes. We can identify a need pretty well, but we have to stop and figure out what we do and don’t know.”

The cultural shift toward data-driven frameworks in continuous improvement planning must filter into implementation as well. Administrators must resist the urge to dive heart-first into change, and instead think critically about the best ways to sustain these improvements long-term.

Continuous Improvement Planning with Hoonuit

Geise’s talk was a great kickoff to our conference, and we’re still buzzing about the valuable ideas he brought to the conversation. We’ve found a kindred spirit in Education for the Future and share their practical approach to data analysis. Our data management platforms offer administrators the tools they need to start continuous improvement planning on the right foot, along with high-quality analytics to put the data they gather into action.

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