Making Sense of the Data

Photo of a chart used for the California Community Colleges Guided Pathways program.
Show me the data.

That’s the message from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, which is encouraging campuses to train cadres of data coaches in building a culture of data-driven inquiry to inform Guided Pathways development.

Proponents say data coaches can help all of us understand and make sense of data, increase data literacy and fuel the kind of data-driven discussions that can help improve student outcomes. What’s more, data coaches can become an integral component in eliminating equity gaps by helping stakeholders understand what actions may or may not be making a difference.

A 30-minute, online module titled “Data Coaching for Guided Pathways” recently posted on the Vision Resource Center website provides a detailed overview of what data coaching is, why it is helpful and how colleges can initiate a data coaching program in support of Guided Pathways implementation.

“Colleges have been hungry for this kind of support,” said Kelley Karandjeff of the RP Group, which has been working closely with the California Community Colleges in supporting data coaching. “It’s really about showing people how they can effectively and meaningfully access and use data in their Guided Pathways implementation.”

Santa Monica and Bakersfield colleges are among those setting the pace.

Santa Monica College recruited its first cohort of Guided Pathways data coaches in 2017 after convening a planning task force charged with broadening access to and the use of student completion data across multiple departments. Coaches undergo a two-day training that includes an overview of tools such as LaunchBoard, SMC Tableau and the Chancellor’s Data Mart. Training emphasizes how to ask questions, how to interpret information and how to steer people toward equity-minded dialogue. Other services include a data coaching handbook, access to online coaching resources and working one-on-one with the college’s Office of Institutional Research throughout the year to address issues that might arise.

Approximately one dozen Santa Monica College data coaches are now available to all instructional departments and faculty at the campus.

Anyone can be certified as a data coach; the current crop of up to 30 coaches at Bakersfield College, for example, includes faculty, classified, managers and administrators. Data coaches help craft the college’s institutional scorecard, determine institution-set standards and IEPI goals.

“The general idea is to promote a culture of inquiry by educating people with an interest in data about how best to access and use that data and empowering them with an understanding of what is effective in moving the needle on student success and how we can measure where we are on moving the needle,” said Craig Hayward, Bakersfield College’s dean of Institutional Effectiveness.

As part of its effort Bakersfield College established a Guided Pathways Momentum Points dashboard detailing the percentage of students from various demographics completing transfer-level math and English in their first year to the percentage of students from various demographics attempting 15 units in their first term.

“We’re seeing a pretty steady increase in students enrolled in 15 units their first semester, which is an important benchmark,” Hayward said. “For those who have not enrolled full-time, we can engage with them and learn a little more about what is going on.”

The California Community Colleges’ RP Group has identified three key steps before launching a data coaching effort.

1. Articulate a clear purpose for your data coaching effort. Choosing a data coaching goal that resonates with your college community will help you articulate how this strategy will specifically advance your overall institutional reform agenda.

2. Communicate the expectations and engage data coaches who can lead a collaborative process of inquiry. While coaches do not have to be formally trained in the use of data, research methods or statistical analyses, they must be curious about data, interested in learning how to access and use data effectively, and be able to develop a meaningful narrative from the numbers.

3. Treat data coaching as an ongoing, iterative process. To shift institutional culture toward one that values and practices equity-focused, evidence-based decision making, colleges should treat data coaching as an ongoing process rather than a one-time effort.

More information about launching a data coaching program can be found via the Vision Resource Center.