Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District

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The Power of Data

Academic return on investment redefines program planning and improvement

ROI You may be familiar with return on investment (ROI) as a common business evaluation tool that measures the profitability of a specific venture or investment, but for the first time in Minnesota, school districts are applying ROI to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of academic programs - Academic ROI. Partnering with the District Management Council, Northeast Metro 916 is providing the tools and resources for member districts to measure which programs drive student achievement and ultimately make better data-driven decisions.

With many “pilots” and “initiatives” in education, academic ROI helps identify which strategies are driving changes in student outcomes by using meaningful measurements and comparisons that will allow districts to provide high-quality services to more students than ever before. Not every program works for every student, so unlike business ROI which looks at just cost and outcomes, academic ROI analysis is based on student segments, student outcomes and cost. The goal of academic ROI is not to eliminate programs, but to serve as a tool to improve programs.

To put this into perspective, one district may have three different reading programs that work to achieve similar goals for the same student population. With an academic ROI analysis, a district can analyze their data to look at how much student growth each program is producing and the cost per student. This analysis paints a clear picture of if a program works, for what costs and for whom so that district leaders can be confident that they are providing effective and efficient services.

The concept may sound simple, but the key to successful academic ROI analysis is strong research design. To assist with the deployment of academic ROI, Northeast Metro 916 hired Jenna Johnshoy-Aarestad, research and data analyst, to work with member districts on research study design, data analysis planning and interpretation, data preparation, data visualization and more. The District Management Council was hired to provide oversight and support for the first year and then Johnshoy will become the point person to help districts continue their work.

Often, the data is already there and being collected, but the challenge is dedicating the time and resources to developing a strong research model. Not all programs are created equal, so Johnshoy works with districts to help them identify which programs would be most feasible to study, what data is needed to evaluate the program and how they can quantitatively define student success.

Three districts are currently evaluating AVID, a program that targets middle-performing students who are typically underrepresented in higher education (i.e. students of color, students of low socioeconomic status). The definition of success looks different in each district, but most want the students to complete rigorous coursework, to apply and be accepted into college. Using the academic ROI model, the districts will gain valuable insights to help make improvements that tie closely to the broader goal of closing the achievement gap.

The hope is that this concept will eventually become a mindset and become integrated in the way that school districts do business. With school districts looking for more and more creative ways for budgeting, academic ROI is a fiscally responsible tool that builds capacity for increasing student achievement. Northeast Metro 916 is helping to pave the way for school districts to use the proven ROI model to make invaluable data-driven decisions.