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Achieving Results Standards in Action - #4 Using the Power of Data

 

 

Image of students in laboratoryIn 1997, as one central Maine school district began implementing the Learning Results, teachers and administrators embarked on a strategic and systematic improvement process focused on adult and student learning [Continuous Improvement, Focus on Results]. The operative question became: "What tools must be in place if we are to measure and monitor the quality of student work?" Answers to that question from students, classrooms, schools, and the district as a whole, have taken many forms and continue to spawn changes in practice.

From the outset, training and development were seen as critical to the effort to improve students' work [Continuous Improvement]. In particular, planners focused attention on providing K-12 teachers with the necessary skills and tools to analyze students' achievement in order to make decisions and set goals for improvement [Participation, Use of Research Data, Organizational Alignment]. Analysis of achievement data would center on common assessments that would serve as the foundation of the district's assessment system [Use of Research Data]. These common assessments were developed locally by teachers and administered to all students at specific grade levels or within specific courses. Learning Results content standards and performance indicators were identified for each assessment [Organizational Alignment].

Administrators concentrated on giving teachers time, training, and tools for analyzing and discussing assessment data [Organizational Alignment] Ongoing, on-site activities were scheduled for workshop days, as well as before, after, and during school hours. School-based teacher-support systems were developed, with a few teachers trained in assessment design and data analysis serving as resources for other teachers [Participation, Focus on Results].

Considerable training centered on using technology to collect and analyze data. The district employed a database designer to create a custom spreadsheet template for entering and displaying classroom and school-level data. Giving teachers time not only to conduct their own analysis but also to meet with other staff members to discuss ideas for applying the data to improvement efforts emerged as essential to the success of the effort. Also vital was district leaders' philosophy of nurturing a culture of inquiry [Participation, Use of Research Data, Organizational Alignment]. Administrators encouraged teachers to take risks based on insights gained through examination of achievement data [Use of Research Data]. Teachers' commitment to data, backed by supportive leadership, has produced a climate in which collective decisions, recommendations, and plans for improving students' learning have proliferated.

Teacher, school, and system goals are now based on measurable performance standards that can be reviewed yearly as teachers monitor students' progress [Focus on Results, Use of Research Data, Continuous Improvement]. An annual "Plan, Do, and Review" process is ingrained in the district's culture, including periodic evaluation of professional development strategies. Data from teacher questionnaires are reviewed by administrators and teacher planners to refine existing strategies [Continuous Improvement]. As the district continues to seek solutions to the challenges of measuring and maximizing achievement, careful examination of students' work remains at the heart of the inquiry.