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Forum Guide to Metadata
NFES 2009-805
July 2009

Appendix B. The Tale of the "No Pass-No Play" Business Rule

This appendix provides a real-world example of how a business rule gets developed.

Once upon a time, a school principal grew tired of his students' lackluster academic performance. Following staff complaints that students were giving less attention to their academics than their extracurricular activities, the principal decided to implement a "No Pass-No Play" policy. The next morning, he sat down and perfunctorily typed a brief memo, which was then distributed to every school teacher, coach, music instructor, and other extracurricular activity leader. It read simply:

"No Pass-No Play"

Thinking his work was done, the principal went on with his regular activities and awaited great improvements in the students' performance. But, the school staff were confused. What did the students need to pass, exactly? Homework assignments or test scores? For the week, month, or semester? Was this rule just for sports, or for band and chess club as well? The staff decided to ask for clarification. Hearing their concerns, the principal realized how ambiguous the memo had been and assured them that he would resolve the issue.

To avoid needless denial of play time to students exhibiting acceptable academic performance, yet prohibit extracurricular participation to those with subpar grades, the principal converted the imprecise rule into a more sophisticated form: a set of business rules. After some reflection and hard work, he sat down and wrote a new memo. It read as follows:

  • No student may play unless he/she passes.
  • A "student" is any child enrolled in, or provided education services by, a school.
  • "Play" refers to engagement in any school-administered athletic, academic, musical, artistic, or other type of after-school activity.
  • "Pass" means to achieve a grade of 70 or higher in every class in each school marking period. If a failing grade is awarded to the student for at least one class in a marking period, he or she is prohibited from "play" for the entirety of the following marking period. This includes the summer break.
  • No exceptions.

This more detailed presentation of the rule clarified both the intent and the administration of the No Pass-No Play rule.

Pleased with the new set of business rules, the principal decided it would be a good idea to start collecting data about the school's No Pass-No Play activities. In addition to the student data the school already collected, information about each student's No Pass-No Play status would also be gathered. Teachers and leaders of extracurricular activities would be responsible for collecting and reporting the new data, and administrative support staff would enter them into the school's record system. Two new data elements were to be included:

  1. "All Grades Passed?" (Did the student pass all of his/her classes?)
  2. "Extracurricular Participation?" (Did the student participate in any afterschool extracurricular activities?)

However, to facilitate proper and consistent coding into the data system, additional rules were needed:

  • Data about students' academic performance must only be reported by their teachers.
  • Data about students' extracurricular participation must only be reported by leaders of those activities.
  • The value for the new data element "All Grades Passed" must be either "Yes" or "No," without exception, and must not be "Null" or left blank.
  • The value for the new data element "Extracurricular Participation" must be either "Yes" or "No," without exception, and must not be "Null" or left blank.
  • The value for "Extracurricular Participation" may be "Yes" only if the value for "All Grades Passed" is "Yes."

These business rules reflected both an operational decision (if you don't pass, you can't play) and the guidance needed to accurately collect data related to that policy choice. And because these new business rules were clear and unambiguous, the school achieved better academic performance and the principal, staff, and students all benefited.

In this example, a basic policy was converted into a business statement, and then into a set of actionable business rules useful in operations and the creation and maintenance of a data system. The policy, formulated in the principal's mind, had a general goal of improving academic performance by allowing only those students with passing grades to participate in extracurricular activities. This policy was then converted into a more specific, yet still overly general, business-rule statement expressed in the original memo as, "No Pass-No Play." Subsequently, that statement was translated into two sets of atomic, executable business rules intended to realize the policy's goal. These business rules were then used to improve school operations and student performance, as well as direct the creation of new data elements and their maintenance in the school's data system.