Driven by Data

Board Governance of Academic Performance (Part 2)

This the second of our two-part series on best practices in board governance over academic performance. Part 1 focused on the responsibilities of an academic performance committee and the importance of creating a calendar around reviews of school performance. In this post, we delve further into how strong boards review school performance, as well as common metrics and visualizations that can help boards easily understand their student performance data. A board’s goal should look for ways to understand the trends in academic performance throughout the year, not just in a once-per-year snapshot when state assessment results are published.

How School Leaders Share Performance Data With the Board

Boards should expect to review performance data on a regular basis. In order to set this expectation and ensure board member time is wisely spent, we recommend that school leadership do the following:

  1. Create a recurring Board meeting agenda item to discuss pertinent student performance updates (this can be called “School Leader’s Update” or “School Performance Report”).  
  2. Develop a templated report that highlights student performance – both absolute levels and changes since the last board meeting. Send out the report in advance of the board meeting to give board members an opportunity to review the information. 
  3. Spend 10-20 walking through the report, highlighting any relevant information and fielding questions from board members.*

*Use full board meetings for high-level updates, and use committee time to dive deeply into the data or to answer and explore specific questions before bringing their answers to the full board. The exception is around key times during the year – for example, following the release of annual standardized testing results – when more of the board meeting should be devoted to the discussion of student performance.

Board Report Discussion Guidelines

Boards should be focused on the high-level metrics that indicate the overall health of the school. To maintain this focus, they should answer four overarching questions each time they review a school performance report: 

  1. How are we performing relative to school goals and benchmarks?
    Example: If the school has a goal to reach a certain attendance rate, it is important to know where the current attendance rate stands relative to that goal. 
  2. How are we performing relative to the school’s previous performance?: Goals can often be aspirational so it is important to know whether a metric is improving regardless of whether it’s meeting goal.
    Example: Comparing the current attendance rate to previous attendance rates the school has achieved provides important context. 
  3. How are we performing relative to previous points in time?: Metrics can also have seasonal variations. It is also important to look at how a metric is performing not only to previous years but to this exact point in time during previous years. This gives the board additional context if we are on track to meet goals. School leaders or the academic performance committee should explicitly indicate to the full board when a metric is subject to seasonality. 
  4. How are our subgroups performing?: Board members must also be informed of how the school’s major subgroups are performing.
    Example: If a school serves a large population of At-Risk, ELL or Special Education students, it is critical to track how these groups are performing against the entire school population, and compared to other schools in the city and neighborhood. 

Common Board Report Metrics 

Given the board’s legal responsibilities, the metrics on a board report should include all of the high stakes metrics that are a part of the school’s accountability system. It should also include metrics that are leading indicators and predictors of those metrics. However, it is also important to keep in mind that boards do not need as much information as instructional staff. Keeping to the four key questions above will limit the scope of what needs to go in the board report at the appropriate time.

Board Report Visualizations

Tracking all of these metrics in a clear and concise manner can be challenging for a school’s data team. Below are some suggested views for assessment and attendance data that we use in EdOps reports to capture the above concepts for sharing data with boards.  

Tracking Interim and State Test Performance: 

These views track interim assessment performance, state assessment performance, and student growth in two graphs. The chart below on the left shows the trend of PARCC projections along with how those projections translate into actual PARCC performance. The chart on the right shows how many students are meeting their growth goals in each grade. This has the dual purpose of projecting growth on state assessments as well as seeing how growth performance is spread across the school.

Tracking Attendance: 

These views show how attendance can be tracked. The first view (on the left) shows monthly attendance rates. This is critical context due to the seasonality of attendance. Understanding how the attendance rate trend compares to the previous year can give board members context on if they are ahead or behind last year’s trend. In the second chart (on the right), tracking Chronic Absenteeism and Attendance bands can provide critical context for how concentrated attendance problems are and some of the causes of ISA trends. The gold bars represent the district and local schools to provide context for chronic absenteeism rates. 

The visualizations above allow board members to understand these numbers in a greater context – compared to previous trends, goals, or other schools. This context, in turn, allows them to be better stewards of a school or school network, and helps them to focus their time.

[This post contributed by Dan Wick, Regional Data Manager (NY).]