Data Benchmarking Opportunities and Traps
Benchmarking is a clear and effective means of tracking progress toward a goal. At its most basic, the benchmarking process can help stakeholders of any kind to:
- Set A Goal
- Devise A Clear Path To The Goal
- Determine The Steps Necessary To Meet The Goal
- Check How Each Step Meets Its Intended Mark
When it comes to school districts, though, the parameters a district sets for benchmarking can make a world of difference in achieving and assessing success. As a result, best practices dictate that superintendents, as district leaders, look simultaneously to improvements needed in their own schools and to ways in which other districts—and even noneducational organizations—are tackling similar problems.
From our work with superintendents across the country, we know that aligned goals, teamwork, and culture are keys to success when it comes to creating a benchmarking process.
A view that exclusively examines a particular school district, for example, is a special danger. If a benchmarking process includes only data from that district, administrators risk missing innovations that could help them set and track an appropriate and realistic goal. In addition, focusing on their own schools can prevent superintendents and education leaders from reaping the benefits of learning how their districts compare, not only to other districts, but also to any number of organizations facing challenges to similar goals.
Peter Hilts, chief education officer for an award-winning school district, discussed this point in a recent news report. “By benchmarking our processes against high-performing enterprises in education and other industries,” he said, “we can see more clearly where we are already excellent and where we have the most need to improve.” In other words, too much internal focus can mean that education leaders in a district lose out on larger trends relating to improving achievement or efficiency. Further, they can’t grab the chance to determine which of these trends could benefit their own benchmarking processes.
The other side of this coin is an emphasis that’s overly focused on the outward—on what other districts or organizations are doing with their own benchmarking processes. Relying too heavily on information or benchmarking from other school districts can lead superintendents and boards of education to discount what they know about students in their own schools.
The risk here is in becoming overly reliant on data that is actually less meaningful than local information. After all, each student, teacher, parent, administrator, community member and board of education member brings to the table a unique and informed understanding of their community’s schools and the children they serve. This valuable information should be included in any district’s benchmarking process.
Dismissing or undervaluing the importance of correctly collecting and analyzing data leads to subjectivity and judgment calls; neither serves a highly functioning benchmarking process.
From our work with superintendents across the country, we know that aligned goals, teamwork, and culture are keys to success when it comes to creating a benchmarking process. Misaligned goals can cause chaos in benchmarking. On the other hand, superintendents benefit from working with administrators and stakeholders who understand the district’s plan—and will act on it and drive it.
In addition, an effective district culture is one that values appropriate data—often from within the school district and from relevant outside sources. Dismissing or undervaluing the importance of correctly collecting and analyzing data leads to subjectivity and judgment calls; neither serves a highly functioning benchmarking process.
Using data effectively can raise student achievement and stakeholder engagement. Our school success solutions have helped scores of school districts gather and analyze the most applicable data for a given benchmark, as well as inform stakeholders of their district’s benchmarking process and its progress.