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 School Improvement:  Using Data
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Implementing Quality
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Riverside Primary School has many ways in which data is

  • Generated
  • Collected
  • Verified
  • Processed
  • Used to inform decision making


Rating Scales
Since quality is that which is delightful to the recipient the 'universal' rating scale is widely understood and used throughout the life and work of the School.

Using this four point scale (with graduations) people of all ages are able to indicate their levels of delight with a wide range of experiences of delight or otherwise.

1. Great, exceeds expectations

2. OK, meets expectations

3. Poor, some concerns

4. Bad, serious concerns


Graduations such as 2.5 would mean most things are just Ok whereas 1.5 would mean that everything was quite good and comprehensively satisfactory.

The language of the sale is adjusted to match the situation being appraised


Use of the scale generates soft data which is frequently demonstrated to be more sound than might be assumed. Teacher ratings stand up well under benchmarking with standardized testing. This is not surprising since teachers establish standards across grade levels for the ratings. 


Input Data
Most activity in schools is involves data processing. The inputs to most activity include a very high proportion of data.

One of the most powerful ways to reduce variation in schools is to ensure that everyone is well informed. The School's information systems work very well.

  • there is a comprehensive calendar (1500 events in 1999) and calendar information is made freely available to staff, students and families
  • major processes are well documented, regularly updated and adhered to
  • family information is well communicated and updated each week
  • staff information is comprehensive, well maintained and well communicated daily
  • timetables & rosters are meticulously maintained and observed
  • finances are regularly reported to those responsible for their management
  • maintenance and other tasks to do with school facilities and services are managed through a centrally managed database that provides all operators with comprehensive, up to date task lists and reports of completed work


Soft & Hard Data People are not machines, educational processes are not industrial in nature and it is difficult to isolate one process from others.  The data that is available at any point in time varies from hard, objective, scientific data through to data that has a less substantial basis. It would be easy to dismiss the RPS rating system as merely 'soft data' and to consider that the DoE standardise testing in literacy produces 'hard data'.


By observation of the results of processing data within the School over many years, the author has come to the conclusion that

  • hard data is often softer than one might think: for example, the DoE standardised testing is often misleading, at face value, and may confuse the issue of the gap between what a person can do and what a person actually does in every day situations, and,
  • soft data is often harder than one might think: in fact our ratings stand up well in a whole range of benchmarking situations and provide a firm basis for knowing about a child's performance

The reality is that teachers are faced with demands for accountability and are required to respond on the basis of a very 'mixed bag' of available data.  For this reason the School has developed the following policy to guide teachers:


PROGRESS (evidence for)

The School is accountable for the progress of students, ie, from time to time we are required to give an account. Acceptable evidence for such accounts may include

  • samples of work
  • test results
  • the teacher's knowledge from direct observations
  • knowledge from intuition (may require verification)
  • consistency with previous performance
  • consistency with performance in related areas
  • consistency with ratings by other teachers
  • consistency with performance of other students whose relative performance is known 

Accurate information based on sound data  is what gives people authority and makes people responsible.  Education is about enabling people to have authority and be responsible. In this sense the operation of the School complements its educational purposes.

People who are well informed and responsible can be trusted to exercise initiative. They also need little supervision. This also means that there is little need for counter measures. This releases senior staff time and energy to more directly support the school's core activities of teaching and learning.