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  • Writer's pictureDr Pete Stebbins PhD

Lead Indicator Systems For Student Growth

We started the conversation about the importance of Leadership Dashboards for school leaders. We shared how important it was to have a balance of 50:40:10 – students/staff/parents & community (instead of 80:20 – students/staff & parents). We also introduced the concept of Lead Indicators – information that is both qualitative and quantitative that can either directly or indirectly predict subsequent outcomes. In this article we want to unpack Lead Indicators further – describing the development of a lead indicator system focused on maximising student academic performance

Pushing the Envelope...

Maximising Academic Performance for EVERY Student!

“I’m not satisfied that we’re doing all we can to help each and every student succeed in our school” replied John after I had congratulated him on the many accolades he was receiving as Principal of a (very) High Performance School.

Palm Valley SHS had recently achieved Foundation Status – one of only 2 high schools at the time to have been awarded such recognition. They built HPT throughout the school all tightly focused around their core purpose of ‘Valley Pride: Helping the Valley youth go on to lead successful lives in work, family and relationships’. They were an industry leader in pioneering innovative approaches to curriculum delivery and managing gifted students. They were the first high school in Australia to develop a systematic Golden Thread weaving through all their communication systems. They had built a governance and collaboration model that became the industry standard for other schools to follow. They had been one of the first schools to develop a 50:40:10 School Leadership Team Dashboard (see Lead Indicators: Example Palm Valley SHS below).

With so many ground breaking school improvement achievements during his tenure as Principal, I was a bit surprised to hear John’s ongoing concerns about the need to better support the students at Palm Valley SHS.

Instead of trying to revisit all his achievements to bring balance to a seemingly self-punitive assessment of the state of his successful school, I instead took the bait and asked why he sensed, amongst all the great progress, there was still something missing? What had triggered his unease? If he could put his finger on the source of the problem, where was it? In the teams, systems, curriculum, pedagogy, assessment process...?

I then waited for his very long pause of reflection before he continued…

“I think what bothers me is that when I’m doing walk throughs (classroom visits) I sometimes get a feeling that despite the great teaching I am observing some students are not fully engaged. Some kids aren’t learning as much as they could but aren’t misbehaving either – so they’re flying under the radar and we’re not picking up on their learning needs. I raise this with the teacher concerned and their Head of Department and I’m reassured everything is fine... then I look at the data at the end of term on our School Leadership Dashboard and even though all our indicators on Staff and Students are positive I feel that in some cases it doesn’t reflect great results – advancing the standards – pushing the envelope on what is actually possible but rather just good results – similar standards (but none-the-less quite satisfactory) to what has been achieved previously. Whilst I totally understand that people change over time and results fluctuate accordingly, I still have this uneasy feeling that we’re missing something – that some students are slipping through the cracks and are probably more capable then their results would suggest...”

He continued... “I want every teacher and every middle leader to be able to put their hand on their heart and list every student by name confidently declare they fully engaged in learning every day and in every lesson they attend! Then I’d be happier to accept the end of term assessment results no matter how good, bad or otherwise they were...”

I tried to frame his concerns as a question as best as I could...

“So what you want is a system of more regular prompts, checks and balances to ensure all teachers are able to deeply reflect on the learning needs of their students and be able to adjust or intervene in emerging problems well before they show up in end of term results?”

“Yes exactly! Don’t get me wrong I think our teaching staff are extremely dedicated professionals but in such a large school with so many students it is easy to miss things – simply focusing on the squeaky wheels or high achievers. I want to create a safety net for every student. I want to know well before the final marks are in that we have done our very best as a school. By the time final marks are given it is too late to change things. We need to transform how we look at students and manage risk rather than simply manage results...

“Okay, I see where you’re going now. We need some sort of simple, time efficient process which enables teachers to analyse every student’s performance in class by no later than mid-term and predict their end of term result as well as explain any additional intervention if the predicted result is lower than previous achievement?” 

“Yes! And not just those at risk of failing the subject. I want anyone with a potential decline – even an A student at risk of falling to a B standard – identified and supported before it’s too late!

Well that conversation really set a cat among the pigeons! Just when we thought all the work with dashboards was done it was back to the drawing board. However, a very worthwhile struggle ensued as Palm Valley built a school-wide predictive risk strategy – transforming the manner and timing of student support and quality teaching and learning (see below). 

Importantly it also increased the frequency of using their leadership dashboard from termly to twice per term (and even monthly on some data) creating a very tight synergy between the qualitative observations of staff and the quantitative performance of the school. 

Their subsequent lead indicator system for managing academic performance was simple and time efficient. The increased frequency of student x student analysis was incredibly powerful at identifying students at risk if declining and providing early intervention support accordingly. 

The mid-term prediction cycle became far more important to the leadership team than the end of term post results discussion. The gains for students were quite pronounced post mid-term predictive evaluation and there was an increased sense of confidence among teaching staff and the leadership team.

Importantly, the data was meaningful to everyone in the teacher/ middle manager/ senior manager school leadership matrix AND was visible on data walls and was scheduled for discussion within the fixed agenda items of meetings (as part of their Golden Thread). The systemic approach of their Lead Indicator System meant there was zero risk of it becoming ‘another meaningless data collection exercise which we never hear about again nor makes any real difference to the school’ but instead a truly transformative system to maximise each and every student’s growth everyday!

The ‘icing on the cake’ was in the Principal’s increased confidence that, across his large and busy school, he was much more satisfied that they were doing all they could to help each and every student succeed!

Onwards and Upwards!

Dr Pete Stebbins PhD

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