Successful leadership also requires a great deal of invisible “stage management” in terms of public relations, according to the report.

“No district or organization gets data-driven decision making right the first time,” the report says. A key challenge is that the evaluation of district data is designed to assess weak points in school curricula and teaching methods–weaknesses it can be difficult for district stakeholders to acknowledge.

“Leadership has an external focus as well–there has to be a leadership within the community,” said Henke. “If the district and principals don’t set the agenda with the [news] media, the data are going to be problematic in the first couple of years–people don’t want to hear what’s going wrong. It’s important to show the public why the data show what they show and what you’re doing to improve [them].”

“Participants experience a j-curve in productivity,” the report says. “Mastering a new discipline generally takes time and effort, with disappointing or limited results at first.”

Henke said administrators must be ready to target easily achieved goals to release publicly along with “the bad news.” She also said that the quick attainment of early goals would help ensure teacher buy-in.

“From Vision to Action” includes an example of the j-curve in action. In the first two years of implementing a DDDM process in Georgia’s Fulton County School District, principals and teachers were highly resistant.

“The district data warehouse generates customized reports for specific teachers and populations to support their planning process,” the report says. At first, the principals and teachers felt “criticized and frustrated” because the district in the past had not returned school reports with suggestions for improvement.

The report says that district teams went to each school to help principals, teachers, and site specialists understand the data and their role in using this information. The district, in turn, addressed teachers’ concerns about assessment tools, and teachers helped to refine the reporting process. As teachers became more comfortable with the reporting and feedback, they began to make more suggestions. Principal Steve Curry said, “Everything we do, the plan reflects or is reflected by the plan.”

Integral to the entire DDDM process is technology, as Spero noted.

Teachers and administrators in the small Lemon Grove School District in Lemon Grove, Calif., had used paper reports to identify achievement gaps and areas of need since 1999. Officials used highlighters to go through paper reports and identify problems. They spent no time actually analyzing data and all their time organizing and reviewing the information.