What Story Does Your Data Tell?

One high school’s journey using the Data Wise Improvement Process
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One high school’s journey using the Data Wise Improvement Process

In November 2006, at a bi-monthly leadership team meeting, our principal introduced the Data Wise Improvement Process. Created by researchers and practitioners from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Boston Public Schools, it is a process of eight distinct steps broken down into three phases that schools can use with their student assessment data to effectively design and implement teaching and learning improvements. Once improvements are implemented and change in data begins, schools can continue to use the process to determine what story their data is telling.

Phase 1: Prepare:

Step 1: Organize for Collaborative Work: On a Saturday morning, our school’s administrative team, department chairs, instructional specialist, and team leaders met in a hotel conference room. The principal believed that meeting off campus would help us stay focused on our goal. Our goal was two-fold. First, was to look at the school’s data and determine what it was telling us. Second, we were to create a Wildly Important Goal (WIG).

From that meeting, it was decided that each discipline would create data teams. Department Chairs rearranged schedules to create collaborative planning times which allowed data teams to meet once a week during the school day. These new schedules were implemented at the beginning of second semester. It was decided that the WIG would be: RAISE THE BAR ON ACADEMICS So that ALL students are well prepared for college and work.

Step 2: Build Assessment Literacy: Department Chairs, Instructional Specialists, and Administrators assisted data teams with: learning how to interpret score reports and understanding the different types of assessments (State tests, District benchmarks, and Unit tests), strands being measured, what inferences may be drawn from these reports, and which differences in outcomes are meaningful.

Phase 2: Inquire

Step 3: Create Data Overview: Data teams created class graphic displays. Students were taught how to graphically display their data. After each unit, district benchmark, and state test, students were given class time to review and chart their own data. This allowed students to see their progress and teachers to determine who needed to have what concept(s) retaught.

Step 4: Dig Into Student Data: At weekly data team meetings,for eachunit, district benchmark, and state test teachers compared class data to look for patterns and/or inconsistencies. This allowed teachers to determine if these were specific to one or multiple classes.

Step 5: Examine Instruction: After determining patterns and/or inconsistencies, data teams worked with Department Chairs, Instructional Specialists, and Administrators to define what effective instruction should look like. Administrators held professional developments so teachers could share instructional strategy ideas or how they tweaked an idea to make it work for their content.

Phase 3: Act

Step 6: Develop Action Plan: Once an instructional strategy, for an identified problem, was decided upon data teams worked to describe what the strategy would look like when implemented in their classrooms. As team members documented strategy, they determined their need for instruction or professional development. By documenting everything, members built internal accountability.

The Principal directed Department Chairs to develop Accountability Plans. Directions for these were to include:

  • Identified Need: Information gathered from the State Standards Of Learning (SOL) Data Analysis Summer meeting or other data gathered from the previous school year that is related to the department’s goals for the year.
  • Goal: List the department’s goals for the year. Goals can be both qualitative and quantitative. Limit number of goals to 3. 
  • Classroom Look-Fors/ Instructional Strategies: List strategies that will be used to accomplish goals. Indicate what observers should see going on in the classroom from both teachers and students. Include the use of formative and summative assessments, data analysis, and providing re-teaching and learning opportunities for students who do not initially master the content. 
  • Related Professional Development (PD):  List PD to be provided this year. Since this is a working document, as members of respective teams participate in PD opportunities, information is recorded here throughout the year.
  • Student Results: Determine how the department will assess the level of student mastery at specified times in the school year and enter the data in this column.

Accountability plans let teachers know they will be supported every step of the way.

Step 7: Plan to Assess Progress: Our Principal determined thatmeasuring an Accountability Plan's success should be done quarterly. Department Chairs meet with the Administrator assigned to the department and Principal to discuss the department’s progress to date in meeting the goals of the Accountability Plan. At the Summer Data Analysis Day…Department Chairs bring completed plans for the school year.

Step 8: Act and Assess: At theSummer Data Analysis Day, to guide the discussion, our Principal uses the Data Wise Improvement Process four questions: Are we all on the same page? Are we doing what we said we’d do? Are our students learning more? Where do we go from here? We also look at: How the implementation of new instructional strategies lead to student learning and change the data?

As each year passes, because the data changes our story has changed to one of a successful urban school. Implementation of the Data Wise Improvement Process did not happen in one year, but ten years later our school is still using it, more students than ever are showing success with learning concepts, state test scores are going up, and faculty works together to determine effective instructional strategies. Every year, we Act and Assess and recycle back to Step 3: Create Data Overview. Each Department Chair, based on what story the data is telling, updates Accountability Plans and as a faculty we review and update our WIG. 

Deborah Marshall is the Department Chair of Career & Technical Education at Granby High School in Norfolk, VA and a presenter at Tech&Learning Live Boston 2016.

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