Mapping the Route to Educational Excellence

by Phil Quigley, President & CEO, Pacific Telesis Group

By now, the pattern is familiar: Schools announce major improvement plans with great enthusiasm and commitment from administrators, staff and parents. But frustrations begin to surface when the school community cannot see immediate improvements in student achievement. Test scores are often the only tangible indicators of whether the school's improvement process is making a difference. But test scores are rarely available on a timely basis, and they do not tell the whole story. As part of a school-improvement process, other sources of student-learning data, demographics, finances, teaching strategy and ongoing continuous-improvement data need to be made available to and utilized by our schools.

While working with schools during the past seven years, the Pacific Bell Foundation has been troubled by the dearth of usable data available to schools. It is alarming to see how infrequently, if ever, schools rely on formal data for needs assessment and decision making regarding children's education. Data is neither used to understand the impact of current processes nor why students are not learning.

There are various reasons explaining each school's inability or unwillingness to use existing data, ranging from outdated computer systems to a lack of trained personnel. Each obstacle is surmountable if we all agree to replace hunches and hypotheses with data-driven decisions, empowering our educational leaders to create the very best learning environments possible.

The Pacific Bell Foundation's Education for the Future Initiative is working closely with the California Department of Education, the WestEd Comprehensive Assistance Center, schools and school districts throughout California to build comprehensive and easy-to-use databases that will help schools establish a strong reliance on data-for our children's benefit.