Eleven Important Rules for Reporting

When you are asked to report results internally or externally, there are several rules of thumb that, if followed, will usually make life a lot easier for you.  Otherwise, you may overshare, share wrong data, or actually not answer the real question being asked.  This is especially important when dealing with reporters and public information requests.

  1. What are they really asking you?  Understand how the data are going to be used and what question they are trying to answer.  Sometimes you can spend a lot of time answering the wrong question, because your inquirer didn’t know how to ask for what they really needed.
  2. Do your results make sense?  Sometimes we get so embroiled in the details, we don’t step back and ask if the result could even possibly be correct.  There was one time I was reviewing some data issued by an HR department. They stated that 600 out of 1500 teachers did not have bachelor’s degrees.  That is preposterously wrong, since every teacher has to have a degree, even those who are not credentialed.
  3. Does your report match already published data?  In California there is a lot of published information about districts. Go to http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us/welcome.asp and see what it says, for example, about your revenue per student or teacher student ratio. Pupil teacher LAUSD If you are reporting something different, you need to be able to explain the difference.  Someone in your audience is bound to do a comparison. In the graph, LAUSD’s pupil teacher ratio is reported as 21:1.  However I would guess that classes are staffed at 30:1. Could you explain the discrepancy?  Do you know when and why you would report 30:1 and when you’d report 21:1?  If you are asked, what is the result for the 2012-13 or 2013-14 year (not reported on the web site yet), figure out how the state did its calculation and replicate it, so that when the state does update its chart it will show the same result. Even when there are no state published data, go back to something that is recently board-approved, such as your last annual operating results, or your current board-adopted budget.  Do not report shifting information.  Constantly updated numbers are going to cause confusion and you are going to spend additional time trying to explain.
  4. Is it consistent?  There may be several ways of analyzing the data.  Have you answered this question before, and if you have, use the same methodology if at all possible.  If you use a different method, be ready to explain why and how this changed your results.
  5. Are the results preliminary?  If it is October and results for the current fiscal year are generally based data from the following June, make sure that you qualify your answer.
  6. Is there an industry standard? Sometimes when there are several ways of approaching reporting, there is a standard method used in your industry.  It is important to be consistent, especially when data are going to be compared with the results for other entities.
  7. Did you archive your raw data?  Sometimes your report will raise other questions and you need to go back to the raw data to do further analysis.  Make sure you use the same raw data.  There is nothing worse than pulling data again and being unable to replicate your original results.
  8. Do you know how you pulled your data?  Sadly, it is so easy to use a report that uses wrong (or forgotten) selection criteria.  After you dump your data into Excel, open another tab in the Excel workbook and document how it was pulled. You can simply take a snapshot of the report selection criteria and paste this into your Excel file.  Make this a habit.
  9. Did someone else check it?  You need a detailed review of the formulas and assumptions.  Sometimes a simple formula error completely distorts your results.  Make sure that someone else looks at your calculations.  The importance of this cannot be overstated.
  10. Where did they get their data?  Are they quoting statistics that didn’t come from you.  Their questions may result from faulty reporting or faulty understanding.  Clarifying what it is that they have read about you may help frame your answer.
  11. Finally, does your organization have a reporting channel?  Do not go outside of the established reporting channel, especially when answering public information requests and reporter questions.  It could be that your district requires all this information to channeled through the public information officer.
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