- By Nan Wodarz
- April 1st, 2005
Today, we are more accountable than ever for our students’ performance. That accountability, combined with No Child Left Behind requirements, has led to increased development and use of data-warehousing and data-mining technology and district, school and student data to sift through.
Consider for a moment that schools can obtain information about student achievement from standardized tests, state standards tests and individual district benchmark tests. Simply gathering the data can be a monumental task.
However, the real challenge is not only gathering, but also interpreting the data and using it effectively to improve student achievement. School districts traditionally assign the task ofassessment to a central office administrator who most likely also oversees seven or eight other major areas. This person probably has no background or coursework in statistics, leaving him or her woefully ill prepared to work with the mountains of data generated by student assessments.
To maximize the use of available data, many districts are hiringdata coaches. Much like their cousins the instructional technology coaches, their job is to work with all levels in the district — from teachers to administrators and parents — to gather, analyze and interpret data.
What to Look For
To be effective, data coaches must have a specialized background. Such a background may be difficult to find and may also be quite expensive to compensate. In those districts that have employed a data coach, the position frequently reports to the business manager. What follows is my attempt to create a job description for data coach that may be helpful to business officials as they work to manage their data.
ESSENTIAL JOB FUNCTIONS
Organize data from a variety of sources in the school district
Maintain large computerized databases
Apply statistical techniques and methods in performing project-related activities
Evaluate the statistical limitations of data
Analyze data accurately and specify a range of logically possible explanations
Prepare comprehensive reports based on statistical analysis
Work with district administrators to write and present findings, and recommend new methods for data collection, presentation and interpretation based on external and internal factors
Prioritize work assignments with little direct supervision
Maintain excellent rapport with parents, teachers and administrators
EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE
Master’s degree, with a concentration in statistics or an emphasis in qualitative methods in the education, psychology or social science disciplines
Strong background in quantitative research methods and a working knowledge of parametric, nonparametric and multivariate methods of statistical analysis
Experience using statistical packages, including but not limited to Microsoft Excel, Access, SPSS and SAS
Demonstrated success in data-based, decision-making processes and procedures
SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE
Ability to maintain large computerized databases
Knowledge of statistical theories, methodologies and techniques to solve problems related to data research, review and analysis
Knowledge of database systems, such as Microsoft Excel, Access, SPSS and SAS
Knowledge of schools as a system and the external and internal issues that will affect the system
Ability to analyze factual information, evaluate significant factors and solve complex problems based on statistical data
Ability to plan work assignments, write technical reports, and prepare graphic and tabular presentations of the data
Ability to present reports to key stakeholders
Ability to uphold rigid standards of confidentiality, professionalism and ethical conduct
Ability to think globally, with a long range vision
Excellent oral and written communication skills and attention to detail
Ability to work effectively as a team member
Legislation like No Child Left Behind and technology like data warehousing and data mining have put schools in a position in which the public will require them to respond more quickly to the data being generated by increased assessment initiatives. There is little chance that overextended staff members will be able to manage the level of data that are being generated. Therefore, we will soon all need a new type of team member — one with the skills to manage, interpret and communicate the information we receive. Consider adding a position like data coach to help your district leverage all those converging factors.