Making Data-Driven Decisions for Better Educational Results: 3 Schools That Do It Right

August 18, 2014 Kristen Hicks

When things are going well, it’s usually hard to see how they could be better. When things aren’t going well, it’s often a challenge to pinpoint just what isn’t working. In higher education, just as in business, the trick to making the best decisions to improve the way things work is data. Technology has taken away much of the guesswork by providing data that clearly demonstrates the best routes to take. Below are three examples of schools using data effectively.

How the Ohio State University College of Medicine Uses Data

The Ohio State University College of Medicine implemented an embedded-assessment program that allows it to track student progress throughout the semester. The data collected after each test or quiz allows professors to tweak the curriculum throughout the semester to make sure students are getting all the information they need.

In addition to the class-wide data that helps professors make improvements in real time, the students are also provided with detailed data on their individual performances. This information helps them make better decisions about where to spend their study time.

How Vermont Law School Uses Data

While the Ohio State University College of Medicine made use of embedded assessment out of a desire for general improvement, Vermont Law School had a problem it was looking to solve. Between the high cost of a law degree and an increasingly competitive job market for lawyers, many students were giving up before they finished the program.

The school developed a plan to assist students and took extra measures to ensure students were well prepared for the bar exam by the time they finished the program. For both goals, the first step was increasing the exams and quizzes the students took throughout the semester. As a result, students now get more experience with questions similar to those they’ll encounter on the bar, and the school can collect data on each student’s strengths and weaknesses throughout the semester.

With that data in hand, the school now knows which students are struggling and need extra help. They’re also able to hand students reports that show students in which areas they need to improve.

How Texas State Technical College Uses Data

Like Vermont Law School, the nursing school at Texas State Technical College West Texas started with a problem to solve, but the stakes were even higher.

Too many of its students weren’t passing the NCLEX exam, which is a requirement to become a registered nurse. Not only did the school have to worry about failing its students, these low pass rates placed it at risk of losing its accreditation.

Like the aforementioned programs, the school instituted embedded assessment via the tests students took throughout the semester. Now, the data collected from student testing throughout the program allows the school to do the following:

• Identify any learning behaviors that make testing more challenging for students and help students overcome them.
• Catch areas where particular students are falling behind and respond with additional student remediation efforts.
• Shift what subjects get the most focus in the classroom based on where the data shows the greatest need lies.
• Catch and limit any behaviors associated with cheating.
• Make larger changes to the curriculum as needed based on the longitudinal data of how students perform over several years.

Access to data helped take the nursing program from conditional status with the accrediting board to a 100% pass rate on the NCLEX. Sure, it’s nice to know the school will keep its accreditation. It’s even nicer to know that its students now have the knowledge and skills needed to better succeed in their chosen career path.


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