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Surviving — and thriving — in the deep end of student data

6 min read

Voice of the Educator

It is more important than ever that educational leaders work with and fully support their teachers. Every teacher wants to improve their practice and be the best they can be for their students. We have the luxury of deciding how we accomplish that, so why wouldn’t we use the technology at our fingertips to drive instruction? To build confidence in our teachers AND our students?

Over the past few years, I have seen the power of next generation/online student assessment platforms and of putting student data to work to invigorate teachers, increase student interest and engagement and provide myriad opportunities for collaboration among staff.

Making the decision to move student assessment online was an easy decision for me; it was the implementation that gave me pause. Before diving in to the deep end with next generation student assessment, I knew I had to dip my toes in the shallow end, asking myself questions along the way to keep my head above water.

Where do we start? I chose to start with just five teachers, who quickly became my “power users.” Before discussing solutions, we looked at the importance of collecting data, and putting that data to work. If your teachers do not see the value in data itself, you will never get to the deep end. Once I felt my core teachers had that understanding, we began searching for answers.

What did we want out of an online assessment platform? We all have the same hours in a school day, so what could we use that would free up my teachers to be working with students more? Something that even the most reluctant teachers would use.

How can I help my staff go from dipping toes to diving in? Here’s where my power users came in to play. Even the most reluctant teachers will grab onto a new tool when they see it making such a positive impact in their colleagues’ classrooms.

Once you feel that you have provided the proper ramp up and support, insist that all of your teachers, even the ones with arms crossed and shaking heads, give it a go. That said, allow them to use it how they see fit. Give them carte blanche to work the tool into their practice, and support them along the way. Give them attainable goals, such as “Develop X number of assessments” or “Use it for X amount of time.” By giving your staff the freedom to use the assessment tool how they would like and providing them with support, they will be much more likely to embrace the tool as a partner in their teaching.

How can we use this data to drive collaboration, PLCs and PD and foster positive school culture? At Clear Lake Middle School, we have weekly Authentic Intellectual Work — AIW — discussions, which are made up of three parts — “construction of knowledge, through disciplined inquiry, to produce discourse, products and performances that have value beyond school.” A mouthful, right? Not in the deep end it isn’t!

In our school’s AIW groups, we encourage teachers to “bring the sucky stuff.” So when a teacher designs an assessment that doesn’t give them their desired results, the group reflects on the assessment in an open, nonjudgmental way. This helps the teacher make improvements for future assessments, and it allows our entire team to build trust and learn from each other.

Whether your teachers are trained in data teams, professional learning communities or AIW groups, the key is to have teachers trained in some sort of data analysis protocol. No matter which assessment tool you choose, you will have a much higher level of implementation if your teachers believe the data analysis process has benefited them and their students. Trust me!

How do we ensure that when we dive in, the end result is higher student engagement? We want our middle-schoolers to take ownership and pride in their education. So we made the choice to allow our students to have access to our assessment platform. All students thrive when they feel they are being successful, and showing them how much they are growing can really empower students. I cannot tell you the level of joy and sense of accomplishment this has brought to them and to my staff.

I’d like to talk about one student in particular — one that would be best described as “less than thrilled with school,” to say the least. Once she began to see how each individual assignment is part of the bigger picture, she started to make progress.

At first, it was slow and filled with setbacks. However, this year her attitude has changed, and she has made a complete 180 from her old self! She is one of the most improved students I have seen in my career in education. As she’s been able to watch her growth through seventh grade and tap into her learning style with our project-based learning setting, she has become a student in control of her own education.

There are three things that I’ve noticed since we’ve gone to online assessment: First, the teachers are better equipped to make a stronger impact much quicker than before. Second, my students are more engaged in their learning. Finally, parents who use our student information system on a consistent basis can easily track their child’s progress online and initiate contact with teachers as needed. This helps greatly in closing the “excuse gap” when parents before had minimal insight into their child’s academic progress.

Of course, even with all of these improvements, this is still a constant work in progress. Whether your teachers are well versed in data analysis or just starting out, your choice of online assessment tools can make or break ’em. Choose wisely!

Good luck and have fun in the deep end!

Steve Kwikkel is the principal of Clear Lake Middle School in Clear Lake, Iowa. He earned his undergraduate degree in elementary education from the University of North Dakota. His school uses Naiku, an online assessment platform, to accomplish the goals described in this post. Follow him on Twitter at @SKwikkel.

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