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Analyzing Data to Better Lead Organizations

Data-driven decision-making (DDDM) is a recognized approach to business governance and depends on empirical data rather than assumption or anecdotal observation to drive improvement and increase profits. You are likely acquainted with the use of data to drive your company mission, but you may not know that school districts also embrace DDDM.

In my work as a senior account manager for an online learning company, one of my key duties is to extract data from our learning management system that provides a clear and interpretable picture of student learning. From there, I guide educators through data analysis in order to evaluate program implementation. Typically, administrators and teacher leaders evaluate data at the end of every grading period to make observations, reach conclusions, and determine next steps to increase student academic achievement.

Emphasis is also placed on classroom level data in order to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Ideally, teachers analyze their own data, write SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) goals, and commit to add research-based strategies to their instructional practice with ongoing rounds of analysis throughout the school year. This cycle of data-driven decision-making is the norm in districts with strong leadership and a culture focused on school improvement.

Not only are leaders and teachers using data, students participate in the collection of classroom level data to encourage learning and to celebrate success. Competition is a great by-product of classroom-level DDDM as well. A few data examples follow below.

According to a March 2018 business survey with 728 international respondents, “only one-third of organizations currently use information to identify new business opportunities and predict future trends and behavior.” While a school district may not seem anything like your organization, I believe DDDM dynamics are the same. Every organizational structure has layers. A district would be similar to your office, a school like your departments, and a classroom similar to a team. Do your teams write SMART goals based on empirical evidence? Do they display their data in order to encourage competition, promote celebration, and bring results? Do your departments use team data to write their own goals? Does your organization use data to drive decision-making? If not, I hope that thinking about what schools are doing gives you a kick start to use data effectively. If so, let’s celebrate that your organization and our schools have DDDM in common.

Chart A: This data chart provided trending data during a first-year online learning implementation.

Chart B: This classroom data wall was used to determine the valedictorian of the week.


Dr. Susan Powell has an Ed.D. in educational leadership with an emphasis in organizational change and school reform. Her résumé includes administrative experience in the areas of technology, curriculum and instruction, assessment, and program implementation with particular work in the area of online learning. She works with Account Executives across the country. Susan has managed large, strategic district accounts and provides consultation about online and blended learning to educational leaders.


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