Lessons Learned in Evaluation Data

By Robert F. McNergney

Even 10 years ago, data-based assessments in schools were perceived as confusing, complex, and rigidly impersonal. Associated with the clunky computer monitors of the early 1990s and oversized printouts of grayscale spreadsheets, most gathered data was dutifully relegated to some dim corner of the school.

Sure, the data was there if anyone wanted to look at it, but the technological moment being what it was, only a rare handful of teachers and administrators possessed the determination and time to sort through the spreadsheets.

Now educational data is everywhere. No longer is the question “should we try to make sense of the data?” Now the question is “how?” To answer, it seemed crucial to seek out an educator whose school environment could legitimately claim to have put a data-based evaluation to the test.

Jean-Claude Brizard is superintendent of New York’s Rochester City School District. When this district, which includes 32,000 K-12 students and 10,000 adults enrolled in adult education classes, became his jurisdiction in 2008, it had the lowest graduation rate (39 percent) in the state. Seventeen of the 18 high schools were on the NCLB failing list.

Among the many approaches adopted by Brizard was using a data-driven evaluation service, called DataCation, to assess issues in the system that could not be identified easily. With current statistics that include a 51 percent graduation rate and double-digit improvements in English language arts and mathematics scores, Brizard is well-positioned to speak to the changes he was able to make over time. In addition, he offers firsthand insight into what a data-based evaluation system should be able to offer a school for the best outcome.

Five lessons that have emerged from efforts to gather and use data in various school systems were presented to Brizard for comment. Here are his responses:

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