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Data Driven Decisions for Your Music Program

Rick Ghinelli ·

“Are you a data novice? Do you find yourself nodding along but not really understanding what people are saying? As we gradually move (or are dragged kicking and screaming) into Industry (Education) 4.0 we can no longer afford to ‘play dumb’ when it comes to data. I think this quote sums it up perfectly. “Much like we taught our parents how to use Facebook, so too must you teach yourself about encryption, cloud computing, and the internet of things.”- Data for Dummies.

You may have heard it said that, without data, you’re just another person with an opinion. When it comes to making purchases for your fine arts program, especially large ones, administrators and purchasing departments want cold, hard data. If you’re using words similar to these, “I think,” “I feel,” “From my perspective,” etc., you are expressing an opinion about why you might need something. But unfortunately, opinions are not enough to justify additional expense. You need facts. That’s where data comes in. According to Merriam Webster, data is “factual information (such as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation.”

So, what does this new way of thinking mean for the fine arts program? The first thing you should ask yourself is, “Do I Speak the Language of Data?” With schools and districts being inundated with testing and assessing, interpreting data is becoming critical in designing curriculum to improve academics. Do you understand and use data terms such as benchmark, rubric, correlation, and standards when assessing your music, theater, and dance programs? Are you collecting data about your students and your program, and are you reporting your results to administrators in a “data centric” way so that they recognize your use of data to improve and strengthen your program? Questions such as, “What percentage of your students can play all of their scales?” and “What percentage of your students earned a first division at Solo and Ensemble?” can help tremendously with assessing the effectiveness of your teaching and your program.

Please understand that data collection does not mean constant formalized testing. Assessment should be continuous, but can take on different formats such as hearing students play parts every day, charts and stickers for passing off scales and music, and recording rehearsals so you know what to focus on the next day. There are a number of products on the market such as Smart Music, Music Prodigy, Music First, and Quaver Music that can help with data collection on a daily basis.

Other key pieces of data to be collected are enrollment and retention numbers. Are you keeping track of how many students are entering your program every year? Are you keeping track of how many students you are retaining every year? Most importantly, are you looking at that data over time to determine what may be causing you to gain or lose students and then using that data to develop a plan to address any critical needs?

There have been numerous studies conducted about how students involved in music and the arts do better in school. The statistics show that they get better grades, they score higher on standardized tests, they have better attendance, and they have fewer discipline problems than other students. Is this data being shared with administrators? What principal wouldn’t want to know that kids in band are having such a positive impact on the overall success of the school?

When it comes to requesting funding, data will be your best friend! Again, if you’re using those “opinion words” that were described earlier as opposed to hard data, your chances of securing funding for your program is going to be much more difficult. When it comes to requesting equipment, administrators need to understand that musical instruments are no different than any other capital purchase they make. Things like buses, cafeteria equipment, computers, and copy machines have a useful life. These items ultimately depreciate over time and, at some point, will simply not be worth repairing. Instead, it makes much greater sense to put those funds towards purchasing new equipment. Guess what? The same logic applies for musical instruments and arts equipment. They, too, will depreciate over time and will need to be replaced. Older instruments may have been repaired so many times that the material they are made of simply can’t be repaired any longer. This is when you need to make your funding request using data. For example, if you can say, “My tubas are 15 years old, three of them are in poor condition and have fully depreciated, and two of them are unrepairable,” your chances are much better of getting funding than just saying, “I need new tubas.” Keeping accurate records of your inventory and focusing on life span, depreciation and condition of your instruments is key to providing the data needed to secure funding for replacement. Products like CutTime can help directors maintain this critical data and produce data reports with key insights that administrators will understand and appreciate.

Start with one core piece of data. Use it in conversations with your administrators. Look for opportunities to showcase it to your members, boosters, and peers. Then build up your comfort level one piece at a time. The language of data and using it to assess your program will not only make you look good in the eyes of your administrators, but it will also help secure the necessary funding to help keep your program going strong.

Original article published May 9, 2024 on Band Directors Talk Shop