As my colleague Mckenzie Haines stated in her recent blog post, logic models are a great starting point for planning your school improvement strategy.
Once you’ve taken this step, however, how do you know if you’ve achieved the goals you’ve put forth in the logic model?
Create a plan to collect, analyze, and interpret data to determine whether or not you’re on the right track. Data can be used to identify what’s working and, more important, what’s not working in order to help you make course corrections on your school improvement path.
The first step in evaluating your school improvement efforts is developing questions that are directly aligned to the components of the logic model that depicts those efforts. See the figure below. The evaluation questions will help identify barriers and determine the success of a program. Evaluation questions can be either process-oriented (focused on implementation) or outcome-oriented (focused on the effects of your efforts) and should be aligned to the components of your logic model.
Next, you need to identify appropriate data sources to answer your questions. Data sources can include primary or secondary data. Primary data are data that you collect yourself, while secondary data are existing data such as school attendance or academic achievement that may already be collected as part of your school or district’s regular statistical maintenance.
Data Collection, Analysis, and Reporting
If you don’t already have the data you need to answer your questions, you may need to collect some. Some common data collection methods include surveys, focus groups, interviews, and observations.
Surveys and observations typically produce quantitative data and use descriptive statistics for analysis, while focus groups and interviews typically produce qualitative data and use thematic coding for analysis.
An important aspect of any plan is to be specific on who is doing what and when. So, the next steps are to identify the “who” and the “when” for your data collection, analysis, and reporting. Different people may have the varying skills and experience needed to do the collection, analysis, and reporting, and they should be included in the plan. Note of caution: Many times, the same people get tapped to wear many hats as part of the school improvement work, so you may need to prioritize questions and plan accordingly.
While you do need to plan out your timeline for collecting and analyzing the data you need to answer your questions, being adaptable is important in this area. A survey you administer that answered one question may change the conditions of your overall strategy, as the data could be used to adjust the course of your school improvement efforts.
It’s important to create a plan of how you will determine if you’ve achieved your outcomes and goals through your school improvement efforts. The process of evaluation can be daunting and seem like “one more thing” added to your plate. If this is the case but you still want to collect and use data to see how your school improvement efforts are going, connect with an experienced evaluator to work in partnership with you. The most gratifying professional experiences I’ve had are supporting schools with evaluation and making the process and data meaningful, useful, and relevant to them.