The principal as an instructional leader within the context of effective data use
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The past decades have witnessed the evolution of the standards movement from a focus on basic graduation requirements to robust curriculum efforts, standardized testing, new standards for teacher qualifications, and emphasis on monitoring student learning. National attention on the performance of public schools has triggered a growing interest in data use as a means to change school practices to meet the demands for new standards. Both federal and state mandates and standards imposed on schools are intensifying the pressure to have all students learn at high levels. Leaders are being asked to work in different ways, using different tools. Education policy has shifted leadership expectations from an emphasis on management to one of accountability and responsibility for student academic performance. Using evidence to make decisions is the expectation for principals today. This study examined the principal as an instructional leader within the context of effective data use. The research investigated data principals use, barriers and facilitators they encounter when using data, and structures they create to promote data-informed instructional decisions. The case study employed a mixed-method approach, using quantitative and qualitative data for analysis. Data were collected through individual interviews, focus groups, and surveys. The framework for data analysis was the constant-comparative method guided by six recursive steps. Data were subjected to several levels of descriptive analysis, whereby the emerging categories become the basis for the organization and conceptualization of the data. Findings identified that data use among principals was fragmented within the district. Overall, there was no apparent sense of urgency regarding data use across most of the schools in the study. With the exception of a few schools, no systems or processes were in place for data use. If data use was embedded in the culture of the school, it was due to the skill of the individual principal and the structures he or she developed within the school to support data use. The variations in data use brought attention to the autonomy found in the loosely coupled organizational structure of schools in the study. Lack of a district-wide vision for data use allowed principals significant freedom in determining which data to use as well as how to use data. This study illuminated the need for a district-wide plan to guide the schools in data use as well as the need to develop a collaborative effort between the district office and schools to promote and support principals in an effort to become effective data users.