School officials live in an increasingly data-driven world. Their performance often is measured in numbers: attendance, student performance on standardized tests, budgeting figures, satisfaction surveys, and so on. But many officials are unfamiliar with how to use data properly to assess their performance and support future program decisions.

Here are six tips about how to develop an effective database, from which meaningful data can be culled:

  1. Give each student a unique identification number.
  2. When planning the database, get input from staff and teachers. They know better than you do what types of information will help them do their jobs better.
  3. Leave room to expand the database as your needs change. Fortunately, the commercial packages designed for schools–such as QSP, Socrates, and eScholar–provide adequate customization capability and size.
  4. Be creative in using the data that already are available. Maybe by selecting data in a different way (such as by teacher instead of by grade), new understanding can be obtained from “old” information.
  5. Use existing models that have been proven effective. See http://www.nces.ed.gov/pubs2000/building for information about successful programs.
  6. Make sure that data can be selected at the school and classroom levels, not just district-wide.