Sunday, May 18, 2014

Owning Our Data

As our school year comes to a close in a few days, it is time to reflect on a process which has driven us this past year - Data Team meetings.  This is one of our Department's 6 Priority Strategies, and we complied, scheduling meetings so teachers could work together to discuss and improve instructional practices as well as student performance.  This data would also be used for one of the two Student Learning Objectives which teachers had to complete as part of their Educator Effectiveness System of evaluation which focused on student growth and learning. We also complied with another Priority Strategy by convening quarterly Academic Review Team meetings to review our data. At each meeting, we shared the data we had, and we were clearly flat-lining, but we could not identify the cause.  Analyzing data did not necessarily improve student learning in all classrooms.  So what went wrong?

During our second round of teacher observations, I realized that the evidences pointed to marked improvement in four of the five components of the Danielson Framework that we are using as part of the teacher evaluation system.  Lessons were more collaborative and engaging, included critical thinking skills and an expectation that students would have opportunities to discuss with each other. The one area that is not improving however, is assessment, and that is where we need to focus our efforts next year.

Examples of formative assessments we are seeing in classrooms are exit tickets with a similar problem for students to solve that is similar to the one they did in class; whiteboards where students hold up their response to a question with the teacher spot-checking; teacher questions to the whole group with the same students often raising their hand to respond; or the assignment itself to check for understanding to reteach later.  We also saw students sharing responses with each other and lots of group work where students collaborated on an assignment.  Lots of great teaching and learning are happening in our classrooms, but our data did not reflect this. The universal screening tool for Response to Intervention (another Department Priority Strategy) indicated that despite progress monitoring and intervention support, too many students were not moving towards proficiency.  The referral rate for special education evaluations remained high.  And despite my reluctance to rate teaching and learning based on high-stakes testing, the fact is that many of our students are not proficient on grade level standards if the Hawaii State Bridge Assessment is any indication.

Rather than sharing data at our last ART meeting, we had an honest discussion about why our students are not showing the kinds of gains we would expect to see if our lessons are addressing what they need to know and care about.  We came to some agreement about some of the things we need to change next year.  Here is a list of what we discussed and will be implementing:

  • Too much time was spent this year on summative assessments (HSA Bridge, KidBiz, Measuring Up Live!, AimsWeb, SBAC pilot, grade level content assessments, etc.). Next year, we made the decision not to test kindergarteners using AimsWeb because K teachers already have an assessment that they have used successfully to gauge student progress on readiness skills. However, universal screening using AimsWeb will be administered to all grades 1-5 students at the beginning and end of the year.  Students who are at "Below" or "Well Below" on the specific AimsWeb screenings will be progress monitored and assessed during the middle of the year.  This will help us make decisions for those students who need the most support or those who are demonstrating little or no progress.  
  • Every classroom teacher will implement an RTI support system in his/her classroom, a time when students will receive differentiated instruction which is tailored to his/her needs.  This should not be difficult because many of our teachers already have a system in place where students rotate through learning activities and the teacher works with students in small homogeneous groups to address specific skills or strengths. The RTI literacy coach and special education teacher can assist with these small groups and work collaboratively to address the needs of individual students at this time. 
  • Teachers need to own their data and students need to set their own goals.  Parents should be informed about the goals for their children so they can help at home and encourage continued growth.  At our school, we have two conference weeks - one in the fall and one in the spring.  In the past, our spring conference has been student-led, but perhaps it is time to involve students in their fall conference as well so the school can truly partner with the home to ensure success for every student.
  • Recent research shows that ". . . reflecting after learning something new makes it stick in your brain." In an article titled, "Study:  You Really Can 'Work Smarter, Not Harder'," participants who had the opportunity to reflect on their strategies or on what they had learned, performed about 20% better on a final assessment, and the effects were long-lasting, not short-term.  Many of our teachers use learning logs, journals, or interactive notebooks with their students.  Adding in a reflection piece with feedback could have a positive impact on student learning and provide the teacher with invaluable information about what students may still be struggling with or may not fully understand.  Reflection is a way for students to take ownership for their own learning. 
Our job is to provide the supports from instructional coaches, RTI literacy coaches, mentor teachers, and colleagues so teachers can view data as "their friend" and not just something they do because they are required to do so.  It is my hope that implementing these strategies school-wide with fidelity will lead to more productive Data Team meetings where teachers are sharing successes, asking tough questions, and being true critical friends so that by the end of the year, all students are ready for the rigors of the next grade level.  

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