Data should drive everything in a school. Too often school leaders react to a comment or a small group of parents who are complaining about something when they make decisions. Instead, facts should drive decision making.
The governing board should use a "data dashboard" to monitor the key indicators they watch to determine if the school is on track and performance is at the level they expect. This might include student academic data, financial figures and student enrollment. There are several key indicators that show when a charter school is entering what is commonly referred to as the "death spiral." This is a decline in student enrollment that eventually causes the school severe financial hardship and/or closure.
As a public school, it's important for school leaders to constantly monitor student academic achievement data. This means not only the CSAP/TCAP data, but assessments that are given more frequently throughout the school year such as NWEA/MAPS, DIBELs, or formative assessments developed by the school or district to measure subjects not tested by CSAP/TCAP. Usually the school administrator monitors this data and uses it to drive discussions with staff, but it's also important for the governing board to completely understand trends that are occurring or if certain subgroups of students are struggling. It's wise for school staff to do an annual workshop on student achievement data for the board. This could be done in conjunction with the development of the annual Unified Improvement Plan before it's submitted to the authorizer.
Having the actual per student revenue on the dashboard is important because it explains why public schools are all tightening their belts over the past several years when the State Assembly is making budget cuts. Showing the Per Pupil Revenue over the past several years is a very powerful tool to explain the school's financial situation to parents.
It's important to align the board's dashboard with their strategic plan. Because the strategic plan is the board's way to implement the school's vision and mission, everything should reflect the same focus and direction. The strategic plan should should progress based on specific measures. It's also a good idea to communicate once or twice a year about the strategic plan and board dashboard to the school community so that others understand how the board monitors progress. It also conveys what the board deems important to monitor.
Making decisions based on data is a solid way to make decisions. That means it's important to have enough data to make decisions. This data might be in an annual survey of parents or staff or even students. But data doesn't lie, even if the message isn't what was expected. Every charter school should have a broad set of data that they examine at different levels and to different degrees. Having the discussions about what is important to monitor and how that data should be obtained and analyzed is vital!