By Carol Martin
With the wealth of data available to teachers and school leaders today, it is easy to get lost in numbers, reports and spreadsheets. How can we use the most meaningful data to address the needs of our students? We need to put faces to the numbers.
In our small Alabama school system, we have learned that intervention and support must be personal, authentically involving students, parents, teachers and the entire system leadership. Our Response to Intervention (RTI) and at-risk support systems are designed to not only use technology and data for information, but to tell the personal story of each student.
Data at the Student Level
When we use our data gathered from Renaissance STAR Assessments, it begins with students. Our youngest students in K-2 have simple data folders where they watch and save their own data from assessments of all kinds. They learn to set learning goals, share their goals, and celebrate their own progress. We recently enjoyed some early learners presenting their data at a board of education meeting. When parents see the students’ eager faces and proud response to their own growth, it sends a powerful message. Students know their data belongs to them. They share data at parent conferences; instead of adults talking about their performance, they explain it to us.
We always want parents at the table and on the team to personalize the family-school partnership. Since we use the same assessment tool in grades 1-10, the parents of at-risk (and all) students have a shared understanding of the numbers, terms and reports through their entire journey through the school system. Parents know how to read reports and how to discuss goals and growth for their students. At parent conferences we have the data on the table. When we make decisions about interventions and support for at-risk students, everyone knows they are based on personalized data.
Great teachers know their students well. Personalizing data attaches meaning to numbers. Using common assessments for benchmark and formative checks, our teachers group students and follow results of interventions carefully. When a teacher personally discusses performance with each student, the data is a shared language.
Data at the School Level
The next level of personalization is at the school level. Everyone in a school should know the performance of classroom and grade levels, as well as the growth of each at-risk student. All teachers and leaders are aware of target groups and their progress. We all work to reduce retentions and maintain a goal of 100 percent student success. Recently, we targeted 37 students in our class of 200 freshmen, and met to discuss their individual data with ninth grade teachers before school began. We created a personal support system based on RTI plans and current data that provided strong support even before the first day of class. Our schools used personalized data to create intervention groups such as a reading gap group served in our Saturday School program where students can make up work, retake exams and receive extra help. Instead of broader school improvement goals, the personal attention to students is where we make our greatest gains.
Data at the System Level
At the system level, it is easy to take a bird’s eye view of system data without knowing the students with the greatest needs personally. We have held system data meetings and transition grade meetings where we share student stories and struggles. It is vital to connect “human beings” to data. Everyone in our system knows the performance of every school and the interventions that are most effective. We all know, for example, the number of ninth grade retentions and even recognize the longitudinal journey of each of those students through our system. We do not rely on a programmed tracking system to identify at-risk students because we are personally aware of each one. We have asked at-risk students and their parents to join us at system stakeholder meetings to explain their challenges. Seeing the faces that match the data motivates us all.
Our goal in Sylacauga City Schools is to support all students and to prepare them for our “CCC” vision of college, career and community success. To accomplish this for our at-risk students, we must not only use our data in traditional ways, but we must also “make it personal!”
For more, see:
- Making a Difference with Data
- Making Data work for Students
- Designing Courses for Efficient Learning and Actionable Data
Carol Martin is the director of instruction and intervention at Sylacauga City Schools in Sylacauga, Alabama, and a former secondary teacher and principal.
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