External Author Name: 
Jack Byers

Michael & Susan Dell Foundation
November 2009

This report urges the adoption of sensible Performance Management Systems in schools, which is not altogether surprising, that being an area in which the Dell Foundation has invested considerable money. Whereas previous research on “portfolio districts” (see here and here) focused on how management systems can be useful at the district level, this report is more concerned with how they can be useful to individual teachers and pupils. In case you were wondering, Performance Management Systems are software programs that contain key data like grades, standardized test scores, and class-by-class attendance records for each student. Such information can help teachers gain greater understanding of their students, but at most schools it’s tucked away in administrative files with limited access. But Performance Management Systems are more than databases and do more than make information more accessible. The best of them can monitor trends, analyze progress toward goals, make statistics-based projections regarding the future, and present key findings in a user-friendly interface. Thus, teachers can easily see, for example, that a particular student is missing so many classes that it puts him at a high risk of dropping out, or that his math grades have fallen since he switched to the honors class. The idea is to use real-time data to spot latent problems--and intervene before they become serious ones. The report offers brief case studies of such systems at work in Austin, New York, and Chicago. Still, though data-driven decision-making has much potential to improve learning, schools and districts ought not to concentrate exclusively on problem areas, and thereby ignore high-achievers who pass all the system’s metrics and fly under the radar. The report is available for download here.

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