School & District Management Opinion

Leading and Lagging: Balancing Education Measures

By Emily Douglas-McNab — August 14, 2012 2 min read
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I recently met with superintendents, treasurers, principals, and teacher leaders from across Ohio to discuss the use of measures, process improvement, and performance management in education. The group is working to create a list of metrics for scorecards around human resources, finance, IT, operations, transportation, custodial/maintenance, food services, and stakeholder engagement. The conversation touched on a number of topics, including the use of leading and lagging indicators--what they are and how these measures can be used to support educational improvement.

Historically, school districts have focused on lagging indicators, which include graduation rates, end of course exams, value-added data, AYP, final observation or evaluation scores, etc. These measures are summative in nature, providing information to diagnose a trend after it has started.

Leading indicators help to predict an outcome, allowing organizations to make necessary adjustments. However, these measures are often difficult to capture and may be foreign to many employees. This lack of understanding can make it difficult for districts to build trust in leading indicators as a school-improvement tool.

According to the 2008 Annenberg Institute for School Reform research report “Beyond Test Scores: Leading Indicators for Education,” leading indicators are:

• Timely and actionable: It is reported with enough time to change a course of action. • Benchmarked: Users understand what constitutes improvement on a leading indicator through construction of "metrics." • Powerful: It offers targets for improvement and shows progress--or lack of progress--towards a desired outcome before that outcome occurs.

In education, leading indicators provide early signals of progress towards measures of growth and achievement, allowing districts to plan based on data. Annenberg cites examples of leading indicators, including:

• Early Reading Proficiency • Enrollment in Pre-Algebra and Algebra • Over-Age/Under-Credited Students • College Admissions Test Scores to Clarify High School Placements • Student Attendance and Suspensions • Special Education Enrollment • Student Engagement • Teach and Principal Quality

By design, lagging indicators are easily-identifiable, focus points of the organization of which data is readily available. However, many argue that lagging indicators provide no true basis for the future, meaning they have no predictive power. A popular saying among data people is that “historical data is hysterical.” Similarly, Annenberg notes that, “lagging indicators confirm trends, but do not easily inform investments.”

Districts across the country are exploring the challenges and opportunities with leading and lagging indicators to create a better mix of measures to make district and building operations more efficient, improve teacher and leader effectiveness, and accelerate student growth.

Does your district collect, report on, or use leading and lagging indicators for strategic or talent management purposes? Please share your experiences!

The opinions expressed in K-12 Talent Manager are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.