While reviewing many excellent blogs, articles, and presentations on the topic of admission data and reports, I was reminded (not fondly) of my first few years on the job (in the late 90’s) and the ever-present danger of the dreaded ambush report. An innocent-sounding question (“Hey David, do we have numbers on…?”) too frequently reduced my weekend plans to statistical rubble. The requested reports were usually relevant and appropriate, but the timing was never convenient. After a year or two of unanticipated late nights and long weekends, I decided to preempt some of these requests by compiling as many reports as possible and updating them annually. The idea (with lots of bumps along the way) eventually became our Annual Report to the Headmaster—an indexed compilation of reports documenting a wide variety of admission, enrollment, and financial aid statistics from the previous year. Occasionally, I still receive inquiries about topics that are not covered in the annual report, but presumption has shifted to picking up the report prior to picking up the phone.
My first attempts to produce an annual report (at a time when 100% of our applications were paper and inquiries were recorded on index cards) were mostly designed to bury my ambushers in data. (“You want data? I’ll give you data!”) Slowly, however, I learned to refine the scope of reports and make them more relevant—some reports were modified, while others were eliminated or replaced. I learned the hard way that data without interpretation is noise. At first, noise was fine with me, but eventually the reports I generated and updated annually became more useful and I started to understand that uniform data collection is essential to informed policy decisions. To make data-based decisions, the first step is to compile the data.
While the productive use of data has been widely discussed in this forum and others, the production of an annual report is suggested here as a useful way to archive institutional admission data. I have tracked all sorts of data since the late 90’s and compiled that data in annual reports. We track everything from applications and attrition to zip codes and matriculation rates. What I have discovered is that the uniform reporting of historical admission data allows me to map our policies and procedures backward and enables me to answer questions I would previously have never thought to ask. The report provides our school with a review of the previous year and allows us to compare results with all previous years while occasionally revealing blind spots. What started as self-defense has become a valuable source of institutional memory.
Using data from annual reports, we have studied a number of issues that would have been overwhelming without easy access to historical data:
- Tracking applications by entry grades over a ten-year period supported a significant shift in our admission entry points—we expanded admission openings in one grade, and contracted openings in a few others.
- Tracking applicants by zip code over a ten-year period resulted in a decision to shift some of our recruiting efforts. Reviewing applicant zip codes showed a clear shift in our application base. Based on this data, we expanded our outreach efforts in the areas where applications were declining or stagnant while designing strategies to capitalize on increased interest in other areas.
- Using attrition data from a number of years, we faced some hard truths about attrition in specific demographic groups and developed policies to address them.
- With entry grade data, we studied several measures of academic achievement (institutional awards, grades, SAT scores, National Merit awards, etc.) to test correlation between our most awarded seniors and the grades in which they entered the school.
- We are currently conducting a study comparing admission committee file grades to subsequent student academic achievement. We are also comparing student achievement to admission testing.
- Matriculation data from previous years has allowed us to make data-based decisions about how many candidates should be admitted to specific grades in order to meet enrollment targets.
- Using annual report data, we conducted a ten year study of our most successful senior athletes and discovered (to our mild surprise) that many of our best senior athletes entered the school in the lower and middle grades—affirming the work of our coaches and questioning the notion that athletic ability should be a significant factor in Upper School admission decisions.
- A study tracking financial aid applications, awards, and award amounts over a period of twenty years informed an institutional commitment to prioritize financial aid funding in our most recent campaign.
Our annual report also includes benchmark reports which compare data from our school to other schools. The NAIS DASL (Data and Analysis for School Leadership) data base is a valuable source for benchmarking data. We produce annual benchmark reports to monitor trends in our area and around the country.
Our annual report has become an important part of our institutional history and a valuable source of data for study. The first step in making data-based decisions is to compile the data. We have found that compiling institutional statistics every year gives us a wealth of data we can use to study the effectiveness of our processes, policies, and mission focus. I have included (below) the index from our most recent report along with a few chart examples. What started as self-defense against ambush reports has, for us, become a valuable source of information for making data-based decisions.
NAIS DASL (Data and Analysis for School Leadership)