Tag Archive for statistics

Quantitative study of school programs

On reviewing last winter’s issue of Independent School Magazine, I was struck by stories of schools conducting rigorous studies of their own practice, particularly quantitative studies. Granted, the issue theme was “Assessing What We Value,” but turning the lens of assessment inward onto school practice represented a significant additional step in my mind.

In the article, “The Role of Noncognitive Assessment in Admissions,” the author described several schools that are collecting new information about students, traits that might help predict school success. One school (Choate Rosemary Hall) found statistically significant correlations between self-efficacy, locus of control, and intrinsic motivation (as reported by students) and GPA.

2013 E. E. Ford grant award winners included Castilleja School, to support the development of “meaningful and valid assessments of experiential learning, to apply these tools to improve the effectiveness of innovative experiential programs, and to share these best practices with other educators.” $1 million, three-quarters of this raised by the school, supports this effort.

I am following a similar path here at U Prep. Whether the question is the predictive power of standardized assessments or the meeting agendas of our instructional leadership team, I find myself quantifying behavioral data, seeking patterns, and sharing the information with people. Is this just coincidence?

While I have not rigorously studied and confirmed the possible existence of a trend toward quantitative program analysis (irony intended), it seems to me that several contributing factors might exist. Quantitative data is more easily collected, processed and shared than before. The setup of a Google Form is trivial, compared to the “old days” (actually just 10 years ago) when we used to write online forms in Perl on our school web server. Data visualization has grown as a field, to the point where major news corporations prominently feature beautiful, illustrative graphic representations of data, and programming libraries make the process easier. Publication and presentation tools easily incorporate such graphics. Use of data to support conclusions has remained a respectable practice, notwithstanding occasional misuse.

In years past, schools would rarely conduct quantitative study of their own work without substantial external help or an internal reassignment. This lent a measure of respectability to the work, as one would expect valid work from a consultant or internal member of the faculty or staff. Now, with people like me studying school practice within the scope of our full-time jobs, the risk exists that we will reach conclusions that are not well supported by the data or not well compared against results from other institutions. We have to be careful, as well as thorough.

Teach Statistics Before Calculus

In this 2009 TED talk, mathematics professor and author Arthur Benjamin asks why schools give so much emphasis to calculus and so little to statistics, when arguably statistics is so essential to participation in society.

Blog Use

Happy New Year! To commemorate the end of the year, I took a look at this blog’s web statistics. A comparison of the number of posts to the number of pageviews is very interesting.

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I wrote the most posts but received the least pageviews in 2006. I wrote the second most posts and received the most pageviews in 2008. In 2009, I wrote the fewest posts but received as many pageviews as in 2007, when I wrote twice as often. Without running the graph, one can see that the number of pageviews per post has increased significantly from year to year.

I don’t know exactly why this happened, but I can speculate that this blog has been carried along the wave of increased global readership of ed-tech blogs, or perhaps interested readers have simply found me. It is difficult to say for certain.

Before running the stats, I had wondered whether Facebook, Twitter, and Ning had taken all of the steam out of blogs. Does anyone really read blogs anymore? These results suggest that plenty of people at least came and visited, and perhaps even read, more than ever in 2009. On the other hand, did I post to Facebook and Twitter when I could have written more blog posts?

I can explain that I have written less frequently on my blog as I have become more deeply engaged at my school. In 2009, I built a new website for the school and assumed fourth and fifth grade teaching responsibilities. These are good developments that positively affect teaching and learning at my primary place of work. I know that I can support people more effectively through direct, personal contact than through blogging.

Nonetheless, I have picked up my blogging in the last three months and hope to continue this trend into 2010. Please do posts comments to keep up the conversation!

Good luck with your new year!

Google Analytics and page trends

The new Google Analytics “Intelligence” feature looks pretty useful, but Analytics is still missing the feature I want the most. I would like to be able to see at a glance the biggest gains and losses among individual page views or categories of pages. Right now, it’s very difficult to set up a date comparison of item page views and browse looking for the pages that have experienced the greatest increases and greatest losses. I can’t be the only person who would like to see this feature!

Does anyone read our emails?

Our school switched from paper to electronic newsletters some years ago in order to reduce paper consumption. Since that time, the question has lingered. “Does anyone read the newsletters?” As teachers struggle to keep up with a rapidly growing inbox during free periods, and parents sometimes appear unaware of information distributed to them, it’s easy to reach this conclusion.

Thankfully, we have found a way to collect some data to allay this concern. We installed the Drupal module Simplenews Statistics on our site, and now our main newsletters include an invisible image that sends a request back to the website each time the email is opened. Our kindergarten email newsletter, sent to 40 families, was opened 108 times within 24 hours! Although opening an email does not guarantee that a person reads it or digests its contents, it at least it suggests that email is effective at putting the news in front of our readers.

If you store email addresses for newsletter subscriptions in your website, this module will even tell you which individuals opened the newsletter, which didn’t, and whether they clicked on embedded links. We don’t seek that level of resolution of data, since just the total is a relief to see, and we subscribe a Mailman listserv address to each newsletter instead of individual addresses.

We learned another lesson from this investigation. Data can really help soothe anxiety over changes that involve technology. Looking at our website statistics helps in a similar way. Data won’t answer all of one’s questions, but it helps challenge some deeply held assumptions about the perceived ineffectiveness of some forms of electronic communication.

Your website or listserv platform may include a tracking feature like this.