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The data-driven school district

How to use data for budgeting, personalized learning and providing on-the-spot intervention.

5 min read


The data-driven school district


In the Maury County School District in Tennessee, data drives every decision we make. Real-time data informs daily lesson plans and helps teachers decide what books to recommend to their students. On an administrative level, we use data to make budget decisions and ensure students are achieving district goals.

Everything we do and every decision we make aligns to our district’s 7 Keys to College and Career Readiness. These are mutually agreed-upon goals that provide a framework to unify our district, schools, and surrounding community to ensure everyone is working toward the same vision for students. Here are three ways my district uses data to bring that vision to life.

Planning for the future. To make sure each student’s growth aligns with our 7 Keys, each school goes through a process of looking at a wide range of data to measure growth for each grade, class, and individual student. This happens in mid-February as we start to look at the budget process. Maury County principals then meet with their teachers to create strategies, initiatives, and resources needed in order to make greater progress with 7 Keys.

For example, let’s say second-grade student reading proficiency is 60%. According to Key #1, all students must be at or above grade level by the end of third grade. Our principals then ask their teachers what resources they need to increase proficiency, and teachers must provide data to back up their case. Schools present their budget recommendations to our district team, and we align each of the requested resources or additional supports by key. My team uses the data provided by each school to identify what resources are the highest priorities, and we distribute funds accordingly.

We use this data-driven process instead of pushing resources on the teachers that they don’t really need. We invite our educators to be part of the process by advocating for tools they need to reach their goals. This model has worked extremely well for us, and we’re excited to see how it evolves in the future.

Measuring reading with reading, not test scores. When we implemented the 7 Keys back in 2015, many schools requested access to more books to meet the mandate that all students must read on grade level by 3rd grade. Our elementary and middle schools adopted myON’s personalized-literacy environment, which includes data-collection capabilities and access to more than 11,000 digital books and daily news articles. Along with this personalized program, we took a new approach to literacy assessment: a concept we called measuring reading with reading.

Instead of measuring reading with test scores, quizzes, and earned points, Maury County measures success based on data points such as time spent reading, students’ ability to reach goals, and more. When students take state exams, those scores only tell me if a student can answer a question right or not, and by the time we get results, it’s too late for educators to help students improve.

With our data-driven model, our teachers measure the engagement level of students in real time and align it with Lexile growth. Educators start with the goal in mind and use frequent data checks to be sure that student achievement aligns with the goals. Our teachers don’t have to wait for a formal assessment to see student growth. Maury County students are learning to read by reading, not by taking assessments and earning points for the number of questions they answered correctly.

Thanks to student dashboards, our teachers have a better understanding of their students’ needs. They can clearly pinpoint where a student might be struggling and provide immediate intervention. We encourage teachers to check data fairly often, and have discovered that educators doing weekly and daily data checks have the most success.

Identifying intervention opportunities sooner. Our approach to literacy and the use of data provides us a clear picture of each student’s progress, which allows for nearly real-time intervention. For example, if a child is reading one book a week and it takes them an average of an hour to read that book, an educator will see that on the student’s dashboard. The teacher can provide one-on-one instruction to better determine the underlying issue and provide appropriate intervention to support that child’s growth.

Our teachers use their student dashboard to watch how each student is doing and provide praise or additional intervention, creating a personalized learning path for that student. Teachers are constantly evaluating and conversing to help each student reach their goals.

Our transition to a data-driven district didn’t happen overnight, but with a bottom-up approach and a goal to involve the teachers in district decisions, buy-in is no longer an issue. Data has become a way of life for everyone in Maury County, and has helped us meet our short- and long-term goals for student achievement.

Chris Marczak is superintendent of the Maury County School District in Tennessee, where they use the myON personalized learning environment. He started his career as a classroom teacher, and accepted his first administrative role in 2005. Follow Dr. Marczak on Twitter at @cjmarczak or email him at [email protected].

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