importance of Data Collection
Having access to and/or collecting the right type of data to begin with is essential. This is particularly important in hard economic times when there may not be significant resources to devote to data collection; in instances where staff have limited time and capacity to collect this information; or when key stakeholders are reluctant to share data. It is often easier to get stakeholders to agree on a limited set of essential data elements that are actionable (i.e. data that definitely will be used to drive changes and improvements) than on collecting and sharing large quantities of data that might not be equally useful.
four key types of data
- Individual Student Data — This is usually the hardest data to get access to, since schools are rightfully concerned with student privacy rights. Research suggests that student grades, attendance and behavior are the best predictors of dropout, and when "triangulated," or viewed collectively, serve as an "early warning system." Access to this type of data is critical to targeting programs and aligning content to support student needs.
- School Level Data — Access to school and district level data has become easier as a result of state and federal policies requiring public reporting on school performance and other school characteristics (e.g. number of highly qualified teachers, free and reduced meals). In particular, school performance and demographic data can be critical pieces of information to inform Out-of-School Time planning at a community or individual school level.
- Out-of-School Time Program Data — Observation instruments, surveys, focus groups, and self-assessment tools can be used to derive information on the quality of program implementation. Many tools exist, at no cost, for this specific purpose. Using this kind of data well can help practitioners and policymakers understand better how particular program elements relate to specific program outcomes. Program attendance and participation data is critical and is required by many funders. Data on aggregate program outcomes is also critical to collect and should be aligned with intended program goals. For example a program intending to improve the physical health of participants might track changes in diet, nutrition and physical activity, while a program focused on supporting effective student transitions between grade levels might track course grades and on-time promotions.
- Community Data — Key data to collect in order to understand the need and importance of Out-of-School Time programming in a community might include: estimates of the number of school-age children and youth; census family poverty and income statistics; number, location and performance of neighborhood schools; and the number and location of existing programs that serve youth. A growing number of United Ways and other Out-of-School Time stakeholders are using community information management systems for this specific purpose.