In this small suburb outside Milwaukee, no one in the Menomonee Falls School District escapes the rigorous demands of data.
Custodians monitor dirt under bathroom sinks, while the high school cafeteria supervisor tracks parent and student surveys of lunchroom food preferences. Administrators record monthly tallies of student disciplinary actions, and teachers post scatter plot diagrams of quiz scores on classroom walls. Even kindergartners use brightly colored dots on charts to show how many letters or short words they can recognize.
Data has become a dirty word in some education circles, seen as a proxy for an obsessive focus on tracking standardized test scores. But some school districts, taking a cue from the business world, are fully embracing metrics, recording and analyzing every scrap of information related to school operations. Their goal is to help improve everything from school bus routes and classroom cleanliness to reading comprehension and knowledge of algebraic equations.
Those who advocate more use of data in the classroom say it can give teachers concrete evidence of what instructional strategies work.
“We’ve been making most decisions up until now by anecdote or by hunch or who had the greatest sales pitch or what worked when I was in school,” said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, the president of the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit advocacy group. For many teachers, using data, she said, is “a cultural shift.”