How Schools Can Use Data to Engage the Community and Improve Learning

Schools need the support of the community to provide the best environment for student achievement.

In 2017, Lacy Wood and Emily Bauman, with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, published a study of several school districts that implemented family and community outreach programs. Through their research, Wood and Bauman found that family and community involvement does indeed have a positive impact on school and student performance.

Based on the study’s data, Wood and Bauman concluded that there are four foundational elements of partner collaboration between schools and community stakeholders:

  • Active nurturing of respectful and trusting relationships
  • School leaders who are supportive and engaged in partnership efforts
  • Skilled staff that work to align and coordinate partners
  • Using data to set priorities and then act upon them

In this article, we are going to explore last element — using data to actively engage a school’s community stakeholders.

Why Data is Important for Community Engagement

Collecting and analyzing data is not new for educators.

Chrys Dougherty, Ph.D, principal research scientist at ACT, explains that school districts have become increasingly data-rich organizations, and they are taking steps to effectively use their data to improve learning and teaching.

Using data is the only way to adequately portray the truth about school and student progress, teacher quality and school climate, argue consultants Marion Baldwin and Sally Wade in a paper for the American Institutes for Research (at the time known as the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory).

That type of data is important for soliciting the support of the community for school improvements. Schools have learned just how difficult it is to engage parents (and other community stakeholders) in conversations about improving student achievements if they aren’t given the data and tools to assess academic progress, according to a Harvard Family Research Project.

Data can help community partners understand where schools are excelling, where they need to improve and how the community can help. Data can also be used to gather feedback from the community that can be useful for school administrators when making decisions.

Using Data to Engage Community Stakeholders

To get community stakeholders interested in partnering with schools, communication has to be a two-way street. Schools should be sharing data to encourage community involvement. Further, schools should also solicit feedback from community stakeholders to learn what their concerns are for the schools — and how they would be interested in helping.

Such data-sharing provides community stakeholders with the opportunity to co-develop and engage in local strategies to improve school and student outcomes, as well as align community resources to support students, as noted in a collaborative research project between Strive Together and Data Quality Campaign.

Here’s how that data can be used in two-way dialogue with community stakeholders:

Paint a Picture of School and Student Performance

People want to know how their local schools compare to others and how students are performing, note Baldwin and Wade. Further, schools are expected to be able to report relevant data.

Victoria Bernhardt, Ph.D., executive director of the Education for the Future Initiative, describes four types of data sets that can be used to gauge the effectiveness of a school:

  • Demographic data that describes the school (safety, teacher turnover rate), students (class size, race, dropout rates), staff (years of experience, certification) and community (economic base, growth projections).
  • Student learning data that shows the impact of the education system on the students (standards assessments, teacher-assigned grades).
  • Perceptions data that helps schools understand what stakeholders think about the learning environment (student perceptions about what motivates them to learn, teacher perceptions about what kind of change is possible).
  • School processes data that helps build a continuum of learning for all students (instructional strategies, classroom practices).

By aggregating this data and analyzing it individually, as well as cross-referencing it, schools are able to paint the picture of the school’s learning environment and performance, Bernhardt notes. Armed with that information, schools can turn to the community for help.

Bernhardt gives the example of a high school that saw more than half of its 9th grade students failed the state reading proficiency examination. By combing through the data, the school’s administrators traced that failure back to students missing too many school days — nearly a decade ago, when they were in the 1st grade.

By aggregating the data and pinpointing the issue, Canyon View High School showed community members where help is most needed, which encouraged community support for getting the students to school regularly.

Illustrate How the Community Can Help

Schools sometimes face an uphill battle for support, as those outside of the education system tend to see schools as isolated institutions. A policy brief from the National Education Association notes that many policymakers, community leaders and parents view schools and student learning as the sole responsibility of educators.

But educators know they cannot do it alone. They need parent and community support.

In a report by the Southern Regional Education Board, authors Gene Bottoms and Jon Schmidt-Davis emphasize the importance of school districts in engaging parents and the larger community in ongoing dialogue about how schools need to improve to prepare students for success both in school and for when they enter the workforce. To do this, they suggest, educators and school leaders need to ask and answer questions that show how the community can help build schools that “require students to think, solve problems and produce high-quality work.”

The answers to those questions provide the data that drives discussions about how community involvement can help schools overcome hurdles to student achievement.

Encourage Feedback from the Community

“Engaging the public begins with listening,” says The American Association of School Administrators (AASA). Successful community engagement requires school leaders to ask community stakeholders what their concerns are for the schools, ask what data they are interested in seeing to show improvement, listen to community insights and report back to them about how their input shapes decision making.

There are a variety of ways that schools can solicit community feedback and engage in a dialogue with stakeholders:

  • Host open public forums.
  • Distribute community surveys and questionnaires.
  • Host focus groups.
  • Have individual conversations with community members.
  • Host study circles.
  • Create social media groups.

By casting a wide net, schools give people a variety of ways to participate in the conversation.

Community Support is Essential to Success

It is essential that school leaders and educators find a way to connect with community stakeholders to ensure the best possible learning environment for students. After all, the community has a vested interest in the futures of its leaders.

To capitalize on that interest, schools need to illustrate, through data, how members of the community can help school performance and student achievement. By using data, schools have concrete evidence with which to begin a productive dialogue with various community members and businesses.

Images by: Nikhita S/Unsplashddimitrova /Pixabay,  Kalm Visual/Pexels

Chad is VP of Marketing and Communications at JotForm. He’s also a frequent contributor to various tech and business publications, and an absolute wizard with a Vitamix. He holds a master’s degree in communication and resides with his girlfriend and cats in Oakland, California. You can reach Chad through his contact form.

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