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Using Survey Results to Help Guide School Policy

Trailing vs. Leading Indicators

The provincial school monitoring programs and the national and international studies such as PISA provide trailing indicators of children’s outcomes. Their primary aim is to assess changes in system performance across schools and districts, and over time. They are successful in providing valid and reliable data on student achievement, particularly in the areas of reading, mathematics, and science. Some of these monitoring systems also collect considerable data on the demographic characteristics of students and their families, and to a limited extent, aspects of the school and classroom learning environment. These assessments are important as they can:

  • establish standards;
  • assess the extent of inequalities among ethnic and socioeconomic groups, and between the sexes;
  • inform educational policy;
  • provide a framework for basic and theoretical research;
  • be used for accountability purposes, as in a ‘value-added’ framework; and
  • enhance the credibility of the teaching profession.


However, teachers and principals also need leading indicators that inform school policy and instructional decisions and increase student engagement in learning. With leading indicators data are collected before learning occurs or as it is occurring. They typically employ short tests and surveys administered frequently. Leading indicators can be used to:

  • provide a framework for intervention, as in a response-to-intervention (RTI) program;
  • guide school policy and practice to improve school climate;
  • stimulate discussion about school reform;
  • identify issues relevant to particular students or groups of students;
  • identify students who need extra support;
  • involve parents in meaningful ways; and
  • increase student and teacher engagement.


The Learning Bar survey products enable schools to continuously monitor several leading indicators that can help guide school policy and practice and assess the effects of school reforms.