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Maximizing Return on Instruction: A Strategic Perspective

It’s well and good to integrate technology into your classrooms, provided that technology is backed by a solid plan and maps to a set of clear academic goals.

Any new innovation needs to be continuously assessed using hard data to demonstrate its effectiveness.

That’s a concept former school principal and education expert Eric Sheninger calls “Return on Instruction,” or ROI. And it starts with a simple question: Does your shiny new ed-tech investment, be it a new 1:1 laptop initiative or some other school-based innovation, actually help students learn or teachers teach?

Assuming you answered “yes” to that loaded question, do you have the data to back it up?

Writes Sheninger on his blog: “The next step is to begin to connect [ROI] to results that prove beyond assumptions and generalizations that technology is playing a role to positively impact teaching and learning. It is important to remember that if teaching, learning, and leadership don’t change, technology and innovation will never have the type of impact that is expected.”

Sheninger offers several ways for school leaders to measure ROI:

Are we talking about graduation rates? Parent and student satisfaction? Attendance rates? Potentially all that and more, says Sheninger. What’s important is that you identify the right indicators for the goal you want to achieve.

As educators gear up for a new school year and the continued implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the hunt is on for success metrics that are both informative and actionable.

Observations and evaluations
Data is great, but it’s not everything. “To really see if teaching, learning, and leadership are changing,” posits Sheninger, “administrators have to get in classrooms more.” In other words, to make sure your learning strategy is actually working, you have to see it with your own eyes.

Direct feedback from students, parents, and colleagues is also key. While teacher evaluations are important, so too are evaluations of administrators, says Sheninger—especially after the roll out of a new learning or technology plan. Absent feedback, there is no way to tell if your strategy or program actually works.

Another great indicator of progress is the work students and their instructors produce—call it practical evidence. Whether it’s projects, tests, or other student work, when measured in conjunction with in-person observations and feedback, artifacts can provide tangible proof of your initiative’s success.

Sheninger used artifacts to assess his staff when he worked as school principal. “By the end of the year all observation comments and artifacts populated into each teacher’s end-of-year evaluation, giving me a body of evidence that clearly showed whether teaching and learning was actually changing,” he writes.

There’s no bright-line formula to determine exactly what data points or observations are needed to effectively assess return on instruction. It will likely take some trial and error.

But before you press your next technology program or classroom innovation into action, make sure you have a clear plan for how to measure its effectiveness. Equally important, make sure your community, including teachers, students and parents, knows what indicators you are using. Better yet—why not work with your community to identify those indicators.

How do you measure return on instruction in your schools? Tell us in the comments.

Looking for an easy way to include your community in conversations about academic indicators? Here’s one way to bring all those voices together.