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Data-driven instruction: Creating a new norm

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This post is sponsored by Curriculum Associates

Data has become a key component that schools count on to help drive student outcomes. But implementing new processes that incorporate data can be tricky. Chavez Elementary School Principal Robert Rayburn details how school leaders can create a new culture that embraces data and uses it as a positive tool to enhance instruction and student achievement.

Some schools are using data to create personalized learning paths for students. This can be a tough concept for teachers and parents to grasp. How can school leaders help ease this transition?

The first step is getting teachers and parents to understand how data can flow like water to support everyday classroom instruction. To promote this mindset, you have to redefine data for them. Teachers often perceive data as simply summative—defining whether a teacher is good, bad, or somewhere in between. Parents can perceive data as simply a way to classify their children as far below basic, below basic, proficient, or advanced. We need to change these perceptions.

The process we have in place at Chavez Elementary has been successful. We started by showing our teachers that they know way more about how a child is learning than they might realize. Second, we provided all of our teachers with laptops. It does not help to provide educators with great data and then not give them a means to access it and have conversations about it without being tied to their desks. Third, we taught them how to work as a team in a professional learning community (PLC) to decide what data to focus on and how to define expectations for student success at each grade level. With Curriculum Associates’ i-Ready®, we have up-to-date data that we can use to explain to parents, in very specific terms, exactly what their child’s strengths and weaknesses are and what they can do as parents to help. We can use the same data to support conferencing conversations with students.

Say more about professional learning communities (PLCs)—how do they support data-driven, personalized learning and communication between teachers and administrators?

Our PLCs follow the research of Richard and Rebecca DuFour. We meet to discuss what the “non-negotiable” standards are and every standard cannot be one. The non-negotiables are the standards that an educator says, “If the student doesn’t get this in my grade, they are cooked.” These determinations are based on the professional knowledge of teachers at each grade and, once chosen, they make up the essential learning path for students. Next, we consider what we will do if a student does not master the concepts and what we will do if a student does master the concepts. In this process, an entire team takes responsibility for all students. We have discussions about why students are “getting it” in one class and not another and we group lesson plans by need. This helps take the emotion out of the discussions.

To enable these types of discussions, school leaders need to give teams the time to meet. In our school, grade-level teams have 45 minutes per week to meet with our intervention coach. We use i-Ready’s data as a key component of these meetings. Prior to using this program, we weren’t exactly sure what to do for students who were not getting certain concepts. Now, using our data, our teams are having real conversations about goal setting for each student, both to remediate and to progress students who are highly proficient. We have defined next steps about what we are going to do the next day and the day after that. It is actually addicting.

How can school and district leaders develop a culture of data use?

Culture follows mission. Our mission was formed with the understanding that we have the ability to get up-to-date data on students and that we know what to do with that data once we have it. School leaders need to inform themselves on how to mine and use data so that they have an understanding of what is possible. The first step with staff is leading a coalition of the willing. When I decided to move into this area, I asked some of my teachers to join me in trying this experiment. I explained what I thought we could accomplish together, and I focused on the fact that everyone on a team brings a different strength and that we are all better off by working together. This approach caught on faster than I anticipated. Our teachers realized that seeing how students are progressing is extremely valuable. Because the data became part of conferencing discussions with individual students, we started seeing students pay more attention to how they were doing and describing it back to them, which was also very powerful.

How can school leaders help support the consistent and meaningful use of data as part of instruction?

Focus on the data that fits your mission. We focus on the response to instruction data that is available in i-Ready, because it gives us a consistent approach over time. It allows us to do an intervention and then see how a student did with that intervention. We can see if a child’s trajectory is in the up, or down, position. In addition, I let my teachers decide how they meet and what they focus on, and I provide feedback to help them gain confidence in their choices. This helps them take ownership over the process.

What are some ways schools and teachers use data to improve the home-school connection?

Treat parents like partners in the process. Our teachers are great at this. They show parents the i-Ready data we are using and how it can help define where their child is relative to what we are grading on in a report card. Parents want to know how their child is doing on an ongoing basis, not simply in terms of a point-in-time classification. In addition, we are able to show them the things they can do at home to help their child progress. Our parents are aware of their child’s day-to-day instructional plan, and we are starting to notice that our students are more aware of their own learning. For instance, recently there was a nine-year-old student talking about his comprehension of conversational text. I never thought I would see this happen.

Focusing on data has created huge wins for us. We have been able to overcome the deficiencies typical of a large population of struggling students. Our teachers are able to help every child do better than when he or she first came into that teacher’s classroom, and this is very empowering for them.

Robert Rayburn is the principal of Chavez Elementary School in Norwalk, CA.