6 Hallmarks to Building Data Culture

person typing on a spreadsheet that has achieved data interoperability

What does data culture look like in schools? Like the phrase suggests, data-driven processes and decisions are based on the analysis and interpretation of data, rather than intuition or anecdotal evidence. A rich data culture, as one Education Partners article describes it, is one that values “the influence data has on improving teacher instruction, student learning and the overall environment,” therefore, positively impacting the overall growth and success of a school or district.

To be data-driven takes intention and commitment. Curriculum Associates (CA), the fastest growing edtech company in the country, has partnered with Sarasota County Schools and is a key asset to the strong data culture and success of the district overall. CA programs, such as i-Ready®, provide educators and administrators with data-rich assessments and instructional resources. Sarasota is a successful demonstration of a data-informed district that measures progress in real-time and responds by tailoring instruction to the needs of its students.

Data Culture in Sarasota County Schools

AP1, AP2, AP3 stands for assessment period and corresponds to each administration of i-Ready Diagnostic.

Sarasota County School District is located in an urban metropolitan area in Western Florida. Comprised of 53 schools, Sarasota is a high-performing district, earning an A rating from the state for the past fifteen years and relies on data as a driver to sustaining its high-performance culture. Through the use of data-driven tools like real-time dashboards reflecting student performance indicators (see below) and CA’s i-Ready Diagnostic, Sarasota also uses data to keep their focus on closing achievement gaps.

The Six Hallmarks of Strong Data Culture

Recently, leaders from Sarasota Schools and representatives from Curriculum Associates shared the following hallmarks:

1. Be transparent. A key to acting transparently is to develop a cultural belief that data belongs to everyone in the community. One major way that Sarasota Schools practice transparency is by using four dashboards to track academic progress, acceleration, attendance, and district grades on the school website. The district believes that making real-time data visible allows for conversations about how to increase performance and close achievement gaps.

2. Involve all stakeholders in striving for growth. To track growth, Sue Meckler, Director of Middle School Education, shares that Laurel Nokomis, the only K-8 school in the county, uses CA’s i-Ready diagnostic tests three times per year and gets teachers, students, families, and the community invested in the process through encouragement, communication, and celebration of school-wide and grade-level goals that focus on growth. Heather Wasserman, Assistant Principal at Laurel Nokomis, says that teachers use the diagnostic data to inform instruction in math and reading and are able to monitor students’ progress towards i-Ready’s “Typical” and “Stretch” growth measures, noting that when students reach their goals, “The motivation to succeed is contagious.”

3. Schedule time for regular data use. When teachers are intentional in making time for regular data use, they make better use of their instructional minutes with students. Regular data use includes assessment administration, data analysis, progress and growth monitoring, and instructional practices adjustments.

In Sarasota, teachers meet weekly in a “PLC” (Professional Learning Community) to review student data and standards and use that information to develop lessons and work towards differentiated instruction. The schools work together to understand data, drive instruction, and maximize progress. Meckler touches on the importance of administrators across the district working as a team and meeting regularly when she states, “Every meeting that we have has a portion set aside for conversations about data. If we don’t talk about data, we are doing a disservice to our students.”

4. Take an intentional, structured approach to differentiation and remediation. Differentiation and remediation are structured by determining which students need additional support or practice, and which students are ready for enrichment. In Sarasota, teachers access i-Ready’s Instructional Groupings report to identify which students have similar skill deficits across four content domains in math and six content domains in reading. The report includes a comprehensive collection of tactical ideas, lesson plans, and print-and-use resources for addressing each deficit.

5. Infuse a data-driven mindset into school practices. Regarding the development of data-driven mindsets, Meckler and Wasserman note the importance of making sure teachers understand why they are collecting data and use it for purposeful and intentional lesson planning. Meckler states, “It is part of our [Sarasota] district culture. Everyone is accountable for knowing their data, knowing how to monitor that data, and having those systems in place to support teachers, which ultimately supports students’ improvement and achievement.”

Another big piece to strong data culture is getting student buy-in when it comes to knowing and tracking their data. To celebrate standout results, the district’s Success Squad regularly interrupts classes with lively, themed awards ceremonies, complete with pizza, pom poms, and photo booths.

6. Provide support and professional development. With the use of data, support, and PD, resources can be targeted to address areas of real need. Sarasota values professional development that is just as differentiated as their classroom instructional practices. The culture is such that everyone is responsible for participating in professional development, knows how to navigate various systems and dashboards, and understands how to use the data.

Wasserman concludes, “You need to know your data as an administrator. You need to know how to support your teachers and find the time to do that. We are moving in the right direction, and the professional development is key.”

Finally, Meckler has this to say on the relationship with CA: “Curriculum Associates has been a wonderful PD partner. They provide tools for us to use with our teachers that are very teacher friendly and make using data a doable task.”

In the three years since they began use of i-Ready, Laurel Nokomis and the other Sarasota schools have grown adept at using these six data culture hallmarks to increase the efficacy of their teaching and leading.

How visible is your commitment to data?

Visit i-Ready.com/Empower to see how i-Ready helps to get everyone tuned into and working with data to target instruction and track growth.

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