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A Look Into Institutional Research at Deerfield
Taryn Boonpongmanee '24 Associate Editor
November 2, 2021

In order to examine student workloads, range of identities, and other markers of student life, Deerfield has placed a new focus on institutional research, sending out surveys to community members regarding homework and sleep, as well as a Fall Term Student Thrive Survey. 

On September 14th, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs and Strategy Dr. Ivory Hills sent out surveys through email concerning homework and sleep and shared those results with students in past weeks. On September 22nd, a new survey called the Fall Term Student Thrive Survey was also sent out on behalf of a new group called Institutional Research at DA.

In his sleep survey  email, Dr. Hills wrote, “The purpose of the recent sleep and homework survey is to collect some evidence to understand the consequences of [changing the daily schedule].” While this survey narrowed in on specific topics, the Thrive Survey represents IRDA and its overarching mission to help Deerfield understand both of its institutional strengths and areas for improvement.

The eight questions on the Thrive survey are scored using the Likert scale from 1 to 5, 1 being “strongly disagree” to 5 being “strongly agree”. Students can score up to a maximum of 40 points from the eight questions. Ms. Naughton said, “[We] look at an average student who is scoring a 30 and we ask how we can get them to score a 40.”

Commenting on the Thrive survey, Lila King ’24 said, “I think that hearing student ideas and opinions are important for any school to improve, but at the same time I don’t think they always tell the whole story.”

Results from the Student Thrive Survey will be shared at a school meeting in December. Transparency is very important to the members of the Institutional Research Team, as well as helping students to stay informed on their data. 

The transition from sleep and homework surveys to Thrive’s deeper examination of data comes from Head of School Dr. John Austin’s Action Plan to Strengthen Equity, Inclusion and Campus Culture. In the plan, Dr. Austin outlined that the administration wanted to take “an enhanced approach to institutional improvement through data gathering and institutional research.” This process included examining patterns of students, identifying problems, and monitoring student progress.

He wrote that, to achieve this plan, the administration’s “search for a Director of Institutional Research, which is now nearing completion, [would] support these ambitious initiatives.”

Credit: Anne Duong

Ms. Kelsey Naughton, the newly appointed Director of Institutional Research, started as a staff member in April 2021. Before coming to Deerfield, she received her Master’s of Science in Political Science and Methodology from the University of North Texas in 2016. Upon graduating, she worked for a higher education nonprofit group called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

At FIRE, Ms. Naughton conducted three nationwide surveys of college students’ views toward civil  rights and liberties. She said  that it “was an important thing that guides me now because I believe strongly in democratization and transparency and it’s very important that students understand that this is their data.”

Through more extensive data collection, Deerfield hopes to become a “learning organization.” In an email, Dr. Hills referenced David A. Garvin, a Harvard Business Review writer, who defines a “learning organization” as “ an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.”

The idea of Deerfield being a learning organization has existed for quite a few years. Ms. Naughton said, “It was brought in with Dr. Austin and Dr. Hills’ title, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs and Strategy.” Institutional research is an idea consistent with learning organizations in general; however, institutional research at an independent school is a newer concept.

The Institutional Research team currently consists of Dr. Hills and Ms. Naughton. Ms. Naughton said,  however, “Work is not siloed in this office. I have provided information to Admissions, the Dean of Faculty, Dr. Taylor, and I work closely with ITS, the Student Life Office, and will possibly begin to work with finance and operations.”

In addition to students, the team will examine both faculty and the Student Life Office. It will consider data on co-curriculars, disciplinary review, and faculty retention.

The IRDA collects data not only through surveys, but also through other methods such as examining demographics, past trends, and academic results. These points of reference can vary from grades to student engagement and involvement.

The IRDA plans to send out a new survey every term, with the same eight questions, and from there, the accumulated data will be compared. Ms. Naughton said, “[multiple data points] allows us to look at how the scores change over time. We can ask ourselves some questions like: Do they change over time? Do they change based on the year?”

IRDA combines the ideas behind previous surveys and focuses on examining other factors to promote student success. As Ms. Naughton said, “Our goal is to help every student thrive better and we want to be able to support them.”