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Home > Overview: The Data Cycle and Decision Making Tools


The Leading the Change decision-making tools utilize the data cycle developed by the Center for Public Education in partnership with state school board associations in California, Illinois, and Michigan and applies it specifically to the goal of improving turnaround schools. Each section of Leading the Change corresponds to a step in the data cycle and asks you to examine different types of data to help focus your turnaround approach.

Keep in mind that this is not a one-day process. Rather, the data cycle will inform each step as you develop and execute your turnaround plan. Leading the Change is further designed to work best with the full participation of the board and superintendent in the planning. We further expect the leadership team to engage key stakeholders for feedback throughout the process.

Here’s how it works:

Get Baseline, Set Direction

Baseline data reveals things as they are right now. In order to understand where to begin your school turnaround, you must first understand the current situation. In this step, you’ll rate your school’s performance using several indicators in the areas of student achievement, enrollment, and environment. The rating feature tool will help you gauge where your school needs the most improvement and help you prioritize your goals. While low-performing schools may have many areas deserving attention, experts recommend identifying no more than three or four goals when getting started. Of these, make sure one is a “quick fix” in order to build momentum for change. The tools also links you to helpful resources and research regarding your goals.

Align Resources to Goals

Resource data helps you align district funds, staff, and facilities to serve the short list of goals established in step one. You’ll use this data to see what resources are currently available and direct them where they are most needed and can have the most impact. You can then review research and guides on best practices for using the resources you have and accessing new ones. For example, you may find that your target low-performing schools are disproportionately staffed with novice teachers and look into ways to provide a more equitable distribution of experienced teachers. Or you may discover community-based organizations that provide afterschool programs for struggling students and engage them in partnerships.

Identify Programs and Policies

Under “Programs and Policies” you will examine existing programs — such as curriculum, supports for teachers and principals, and family outreach — for their capacity to serve the goals established in step one and resourced in step two. For example, if high-school math is one of your priorities, you will want to know if your target schools offer high-level courses to all students. If not, you will likely want to address the math curriculum. In this step, it won’t be necessary to rate every question; only those that are relevant to your goals. Again, we provide resources and research that will help you brainstorm effective policies for moving forward.

Monitor Progress

In this step, you will see whether your actions and policies are getting the results you want. Choose those indicators that are most relevant to your goals to assess the impact of your turnaround plan. The data allows you to see whether your policies are working, whether you need to focus on new areas, or whether you need to re-think your approach. The results thus become the baseline for the next round of decision making using the data cycle.

Begin Leading the Change

Now that you understand the data cycle and its use in the decision-making tools, you’re ready to dive in.

Click “Get Baseline, Set Direction” to begin Leading the Change.