What’s Your Problem?
This is a forum to present your “conundrums” to AGI for our feedback. By sharing here, you may help a fellow district with the same challenge! Do you have a “problem” to present? Reply to this post or email us.
Question from a client:
“I am finding—as you told us we would—that effectively monitoring Results policies is one of the most challenging parts of implementing Coherent Governance. My particular challenge is this: understanding the evidence that is being presented to us. Making sense of the data in all its forms is difficult, especially for non-educators who are untrained in data and how to interpret it. When I am asked to make a judgment about reasonable progress based on numbers I don’t understand, my comfort level is well below where it needs to be. Help!”
Actually, the challenge should not belong exclusively to the board. It is the superintendent’s responsibility—along with the administrative staff who support the superintendent—to present progress data in terms that lay board members can understand. Since every board (and every board member) is at a different point on the knowledge spectrum, there is no way to “standardize” the means for presenting data in such a way that the board can understand it. This will vary from board to board, and from board member to board member.
As Results reports and prepared and presented, the superintendent and supporting staff are obligated to place themselves in the shoes of lay board members who will be receiving and acting on the reports. Said another way, the reports are not being prepared and presented for the benefit of the professional staff who live in the world of data. They are aimed at an audience comprised of ordinary people who have an extraordinarily important role to play in judging the success of the district. The reports should enable them to do that job competently.
But the burden cannot be placed entirely on the shoulders of the superintendent and staff. The board has the responsibility for assuring that each member has at least some rudimentary understanding of data and a notion of what various numbers mean. This means that board development is necessary to equip the board with enough understanding that members can make sense of what they are reading as reports are presented. This is a joint task involving both the board and administration, but the board must be clear about what members need and expect and what administrators need to do to prepare the board for receiving and disposing of the reports.
One of the tendencies of many board members is to sit passively, nod their heads and pretend to understand data when in reality they might as well be reading reports presented in Greek. We understand how difficult it can be for members to admit that they don’t understand, especially during public meetings. But pretending to understand, and acting on the reports from a position of ignorance, is serving no one well. It is not a sign of weakness to acknowledge that help is needed.
Bottom line: intelligently receiving and acting on student performance data is a challenge for any school board—just as we said from the beginning. But it is not an impossible task if the board, superintendent and staff do what they must in order to build board capacity to understand data, to create reports that normal humans can make sense of, and to explain difficult concepts in simple language.