In the Wilson County School District, using educational data to inform our decisions has reinvented the way students learn, and it has given educators newfound confidence in their teaching practices.
Last year, we were recognized by the state as an exemplary district, and we’ve achieved level five status, meaning our students are growing at a rate that’s two years beyond what’s expected.
We’ve achieved these results through the hard work of our faculty—and by using educational data to support how we instruct and evaluate our students. Other district leaders hoping to achieve similar results can follow three essential steps to creating a data-centric culture.
1. Get teachers on board
The first thing to consider when incorporating educational data into student evaluation seems simple, and it’s critical: how are you going to use it and who is going to be using it? One year ago, I presented to our district’s teachers that we want to grow our students, and data is going to support that mission.
In Wilson County, every administrator and teacher uses data to some extent, so it’s imperative that they understand how to evaluate it and put it to good use. Confidence is critical. For every new teacher that comes through our doors, we make it a priority to understand their comfort level and ability to work with data.
For those who need some additional training, we provide professional development opportunities. For example, this summer, we held a literacy summit attended by more than 400 educators. During the three-day workshop, we focused on how to dig deeper into data to drive literacy achievement, and how to identify student trends and possibilities for intervention.
We’ve also realized the benefit of using assessment in a positive—not punitive—way to measure student growth. We use data to create our district’s assessments, focusing on the subject areas where improvement is needed. The faculty then uses the results to evaluate student achievement and to forecast growth. We also compare the results to state standards to ensure that students are on track and intervene where necessary.
One tool that our district uses to assist with this is Achieve3000, a differentiated literacy platform. The benefits of the platform are two-fold, it provides differentiated materials to meet students at their individual levels, and provides in-depth data to teachers.
2. Avoid the ‘herd technique’
One year ago, I tasked our administrators and teachers with one objective: to truly get to know our students. Students each have their own unique skillsets, life experiences, and interests. These factors all impact how they are performing in school, and how they should be taught. Teachers need to know their students – it’s not something that they are going to realize within the first day or month of a school year.
Building relationships takes time, but the results are more than worth it. My advice to administrators and teachers alike is to dig deep, use data to discover where a student excels and where they struggle, and from there address the student’s needs. It’s imperative that you avoid the ‘herd technique’ when using data – it should be used in conjunction with your knowledge of a student and their background.
To build teacher confidence in using data, I have three tips: training, support, and positive reinforcement. We offer professional development and resources on how to work through data, support through educational technology, and celebrate teachers by rewarding the work that they put in. As we do with our students, we recognize our educators for showing determination, a desire to learn, and growth.
3. Discover the story
I’ve had more than one faculty member approach me with the fear that they aren’t able to dig into educational data because they aren’t a mathematician. My advice is always the same: it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the story that the numbers tell us. It’s the story about every child and what’s taking place in the classroom.
Thanks to data, we’ve identified some interesting trends within our district. For example, we found that flexible grouping was a huge benefit to our elementary and middle schoolers and that closely examining literacy achievement from an early age can help to identify potential learning disabilities. We also recognized that many students were entering high school without foundational literacy skills. Through these discoveries, we’ve been able to intervene where necessary and use positive findings to inform instruction in other schools. It’s a group effort.
Data builds confidence and inspires growth in students. We can make strong decisions on what needs to be addressed, and ensure that students are prepared for state assessments with internal measurements. Data drives everything we do, it’s a part of our culture and is a major support to students and faculty alike.