Actions Speak Louder Than Data
When I was a school district employee responding to ad hoc requests for information from principals, superintendents, and parents, I was struck by how many times the requestors didn’t get back what they really wanted. After tiring of re-running analyses, I realized that the requestor’s mindset was turned around. Instead of walking in and asking for specific data, they should have been telling me what they wanted to do with the data. That “aha” made life so much easier. This Optimal Reference Guide turns around how educators are using their decision support systems. Educators look at the available data and say, “What can I learn from these data?” Instead they should be asking first, “What do I need to do that can be informed by data?” We are doing a poor job of informing decisions with data. Certainly there are many decision support systems, reporting applications, dashboards, and query tools available. However, as dynamic and interactive as the reports have become, they are still disappointing many users. That’s not an insignificant conclusion from someone who has seen demonstrations and implementations of a plethora of major reporting applications over the past decade. How many ways can we filter, disaggregate, drill down, and visualize the same data? In the 21st century, educators are still usually limited to readily available data. Granted, those readily available data are growing exponentially. How are we going to define the data we should be collecting and making accessible? Maybe to a large degree we need to define how we organize the wealth of data we have. In the end, the majority of today’s reports are still merely counts. I’m looking for more than that. Imagine reports that hit your display at the time an action can be taken—an action informed by the data. This paper pushes us to think beyond the limits of our current data—or at least those data as they are available to us, beyond the edge of descriptive reports that display counts, all the way to relationships within the data that reveal what needs to be done. This is not simple. Groups I have worked with progress quickly from asking for tables of counts to asking for lists of students that share a characteristic that indicates action. That’s leaping in the right direction. The gap between knowing there are 45 overage students who failed the mathematics assessment to viewing a list of them on a dashboard by classroom is large…but not nearly huge enough. Some systems even give teachers that list with a plan of action—but did the teacher ask for that instead of answers to other more pressing questions? Imagine getting lists of students who are likely to drop out this week because their pending report card will tell them their grades are so low that they must make all A’s for the first time in their lives next reporting cycle or they will fail too many classes to graduate. Why should these students stay through Monday? Why should they come back next fall? Imagine getting an alert through the education portal on your monitor that the new student who is coming down the hallway to enter your classroom has a hearing loss in the right ear and needs to sit on your left side in the classroom, or has to take a retest of the state assessment in reading next week because three specific standards were not met on the last assessment, or excels in group work rather than individual tasks. This paper defines a framework for designing and producing Action Reports™. An Action Report is one that informs the user of an opportunity or a requirement and suggests what action should be taken. The Action Report Framework described does not ignore the reality that many of our reporting requirements are to comply with legal or funding mandates or to simply publish information in a profile. Oh, yes, some learning management systems do some of these functions and do them well. However, how much are they limited by working with available data, standard report templates, or query systems with overwhelming options and parameters to manipulate? This paper gets back to the basics to ensure decision makers get what they need in the way they need it. CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FULL WHITE PAPER ESP Solutions Group, Inc. announced in January, 2015, the launching of ESP Twitter Seminars, called ESPTwiminars (#ESPTwiminars). Click Here to follow the Action Reports Twiminar on P20WForum or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/espsg.