Data-Driven Academic Excellence for Charter Boards

Data-Driven Academic Excellence for Charter Boards

The term, data-driven governance, might be relatively new to the charter community — at least if you’re not yet a BoardOnTrack member.

And yet the term, data-driven instruction, is widely used in the school context.

Data-driven instruction is the cornerstone of what makes a successful charter school. It’s the use, at the classroom level, of quantifiable data in order to support measurable goals, set by an educator, to determine if the students are mastering the necessary skills.

Data-driven Governance is Similar

You set the organization’s academic achievement goals, gather and examine the relevant data, determine whether the organization is fulfilling the promises in its charter…and make governance decisions accordingly.

Set academic excellence goals grounded in data.

Let’s be clear. The board does not do this work in a vacuum. The CEO or school leader, the Academic Excellence Committee, and the full board, all have roles to play.

The CEO’s role is to utilize existing data to draft academic achievement goals for the upcoming year. The committee’s role is to review those proposed goals, and accompanying timeline, and to ask questions.

The committee is there to make sure the goals are ambitious and achievable — and to utilize data presented by the academic leadership to monitor progress throughout the year.

Even if you’re non-educator, you can contribute here. Look at comparable data against other people in your city or state. Because, if they can do it, you can do it too.

But, if your CEO’s proposing something that nobody’s ever done, if there’s no data to back up that it’s doable, you might want to question the plan. Caution against anything that doesn’t seem doable.

When ready, the CEO and the Academic Excellence Committee will together recommend finalized goals and reporting timeline to the full board for approval.

Ensure that the trustees understand the goals. The CEO and the committee can co-present some of this to the board. That way, the committee, as non-educators, can be a good translation service of the whole alphabet soup of things like state testing and other nitty gritty elements of academic excellence drivers and data points.

Monitor your progress towards meeting — or exceeding — those goals.

Look at the data consistently, at the regular board meetings and Academic Excellence Committee meetings.

Throughout the year, the CEO should present the Academic Excellence Committee with data and updates on progress towards goals. Dive deep into the data at those committee meetings. Validate the approaches and the progress being made — or lack thereof.

The committee should review, ask questions, and help the CEO frame what level of detail will be shared with the full board at the next meeting. Bring the headlines to the full board meetings. But don’t go into all the micro details at the full board meetings.

To do this right, you’ll need the right board-level data.  Here’s the data your board should be seeing.

Frame the data around a key set of questions that the board and CEO continually ask themselves. We recommend:

Are students making progress toward attaining the highest level of academic achievement?

Look at things like ELA gains, math proficiency, graduation rates, or post-secondary engagement.

Has our organization established a powerful climate and culture in which students can thrive?

The data points that can tell you a lot here are attendance, on-time arrival, parent satisfaction, or even student suspensions.

Does our organization recruit, develop and retain exceptional staff?

Look at teacher retention, teacher satisfaction, teacher turnover.

If you have an HR committee, the human capital piece might live there. But, if your board is too lean for that, it can be part of the Academic Excellence Committee’s focus.

Decide the questions that are right for your committee. And, for each question, ask yourselves: how do you know? What data can you look at? What evidence does your CEO have?

What if our board feels like we should be measuring different things than the CEO thinks that we should be measuring?

We’ve seen some boards ask for more and more and more data. But the board can only absorb so much. And you only want so much of the academic leadership’s time invested in gathering and reporting data to the board.

So, be careful to come up with a few KPIs or key performance indicators. Focus on the most important things.

Reach back to your charter promises. Are you, at a minimum, measuring the things that are going to help you keep and expand your charter?

Make sure you’re using those metrics first. And layer other things on.

Look at the key things that you can see in your BoardOnTrack dashboards.

We came to those because we’ve worked with 500 charter school boards to identify what works. So, if we think they’re pretty important, it’s not only because we know what we’re talking about. It’s because your peers told us.

And remember, the committee might look at deeper details than the board as a whole.

Just like how the Finance Committee is probably looking at a lot of detail. But at a board level, you’re looking at cash on hand and basic things like that.

Benchmark data helps the board see how you compare to others.

The board needs data. But, just telling them, “Our school was at x% and now we’re at y%” on this key metric, gives them data but no context for the data.

Show them how you rate, compared to all the other charters in your city or your state. Show them how your gains are similar to the gains others have been able to make — and why you think they’re credible.

Giving your board comparison data will help a lot in the conversations. It’ll prepare them to hear and understand the high-level strategies that you think are going to help you move the needle.

Be clear about what data will be available, and at what intervals.

Data points like attendance might be reviewed on a monthly basis, to spot trends. While some things you might only have a few times a year like you’re taking the NWEA map.

You’ll want to get clear with the committee, and the board as a whole, when you’ll have what data and when you’ll be able to report out to them.

With a data-driven approach, the board can — and should — contribute to your charter’s academic excellence results.

The board’s role in contributing to academic excellence is not centered around academic experience.

It’s about providing good governance leadership, keeping a data-driven mindset, asking the right questions, and being an effective sounding board.

And you have to be an expert if you know what questions to ask. BoardOnTrack members — prepare for your next Academic Excellence Committee meeting by downloading Smart Questions for Board Members to Ask About Assessment Data {You’ll be prompted to log in to the platform, then taken straight to the resource.}

Grab this list. Bring it to your Academic Excellence Committee meeting. And talk it through.

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