Using Data as a Flashlight, Despite its History as a Hammer
Among the five characteristics of Collective Impact are a common agenda, using shared data, and ensuring constant communication among partners. The logic behind each of these is that all partners must be on the same page as far as their work, and “in it together” as far as their accountability to the outcomes. For this reason, Granger Elementary, and several other United Way Community Schools, decided to have mid-year partner meetings to review school data and make any course corrections necessary to meet end-of-year goals. In Granger’s case, the timing of the event couldn’t have been better, as less than a week before we received our mid-year reading scores. The news was not good; in five out of seven grade levels, Granger students were not on track to meet year-end reading goals.
Most of us are familiar with the difficulty and fear we experience when sharing our own bad results. In the world of education, this fear is only exaggerated. For decades, districts and schools with low test scores have been the target of blame and criticism, rather than support and resources. The result of this, understandably, has been for schools to remain secretive and keep their data to themselves. While this may have had the temporary benefit of sheltering schools from criticism, it only harms the students who are in desperate need of attention. To make long term changes, schools and partners must create a culture of shared accountability and continuous improvement, with data being used as a flashlight to guide interventions, rather than as a hammer to blame or punish.
With this spirit of transparency and partnership, Amber Clayton, the principal of Granger Elementary, made her first “State of the School” address – asking the Promise West Valley partners for help to improve Granger’s reading scores. While everyone in the room believes in data sharing and shared accountability, it is something else entirely to embody it to the extent that Mrs. Clayton does. After all, to most of the world, it is she—not the partners—who are responsible for this data and have the most to lose. But to everyone involved in Collective Impact, and particularly to Mrs. Clayton, this thinking is wrong on two counts.
First, we are all responsible for this data, as no one organization or institution can solve this problem alone. Second, and most importantly, it is not the principal or any other adult who has the most to lose, but rather the future of our students that is in jeopardy. Mrs. Clayton believes this deeply and acted accordingly during the State of the School address. Thank you to her, and to the partners – it was quite an incredible sight to see! Way to LIVE UNITED!