Dive Brief:

  • The vast majority of middle and high school principals have access to academic, attendance and discipline data on students — and the records are usually broken down by student subgroups. But information on students’ social-emotional skills and where they go after high school are harder to come by, according to a RAND Corp. nationally representative sample of principals.
  • Disaggregated data on which courses students take — which can help administrators determine inequitable access to higher-level courses — is available for about half of middle school principals and two-thirds of high school principals, the responses show.
  • In addition, less than half of principals at both levels responded that they meet with other administrators to review data and use it for improvement. “This finding suggests an opportunity to increase principals’ participation in data collaborations that allow them to learn from one another and share ideas about how to use data effectively,” the authors wrote.

Dive Insight:

The results provide a window into how principals use data to make decisions. For example, test scores, attendance data and student discipline records most often figure into principals’ decisions for choosing intervention programs. A smaller percentage, however, reported using test scores, grades and course enrollment data for decisions on instructional leadership. The authors note principals were least likely to use either academic or nonacademic data to make budget decisions. 

It’s not surprising high school principals report greater access to data on postsecondary outcomes, but 45% still responded they don’t have this data. As the focus of K-12 education leans more toward successfully preparing students for college or a career, experts say understanding college enrollment patterns, whether students had to enroll in remedial courses and whether they earned a degree can improve programs and services at the high school level — and even earlier.

Currently, for example, data from the National College Attainment Network shows financial aid form completion rates are lower than they were this time last year — especially among students from lower-income backgrounds. And this week, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) joined Chiefs for Change in tweeting with the hashtag #FAFSAFastBreak.

Such data can help schools know who to target for extra support. While some states are beginning to require students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, only a handful include such data on state report cards. 

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