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Lasso the Power of Data; Say Goodbye to NCLB Sanctions

State and federal accountability systems are placing a blinding spotlight on student achievement levels. For Title I schools with limited English proficiency, special education or minority students, the stakes are greater than ever. If just one of these subgroups falls behind, the school as a whole fails to make adequate yearly progress. But data, used well and wisely, propels you off the watch list and toward success.

Case in point: In 2003, Learning Point Associates discovered several schools in the Carpentersville IL District 300 were placed on the academic watch list by the Illinois State Board of Education. School leaders knew they had to turn things around in order to meet state requirements and develop school improvement plans.

Carmen Acevedo, the district's director of Title I, English as a second language, and bilingual education, said several areas of the school improvement plan dealt with data and data analysis. These were the areas where the schools most needed support.

"The relationship with Learning Point Associates was intended to provide these schools with support in the improvement process so that they could meet the state requirements," said Acevedo. In addition to learning how to better work with data, literacy leadership was identified as another area for improvement.

According to Sally Sover, the district's literacy leader, elementary literacy teachers needed help analyzing individual data that would support the needs of struggling students. To help solve both of the problems the schools faced, Learning Point Associates recommended data retreats, which are specialized trainings on the analysis and interpretation of data that lead to concrete strategies for academic improvement.

The first step was gathering a variety of data and sifting through what was relevant and what wasn't needed. According to Sover, participants liked learning about the stoplight method, which is a way to code data. This method is a hands-on approach for analyzing data. Participants code raw data that is printed on paper by using colored highlighters to show whether the data being assessed is below or above expectations.

The stoplight method can be applied to any type of data (assessment, student, demographic, program, or perception). It can also be applied to any level of analysis whether disaggregated (e.g., student level) or aggregated (e.g., school level) data. The participants agreed that this visual strategy assisted with identifying trends and patterns in the data and allowed them to clearly communicate that information to other stakeholders.

"Participants found it meaningful to use their own school data," Acevedo remarked. "It increased their awareness about using data to make decisions for improvement." Bryan Chumbley, a senior program associate at Learning Point Associates, delivers data retreats to educators across the country. He knows when participants are truly learning by the types of conversations he hears taking place.

"The discussions I heard from the school teams in Carpentersville were powerful and focused on increasing opportunities for students to achieve at higher levels," he said. "The range of topics covered during the conversations included student achievement, performance of specific groups, quality of instructional program, equal access to learning opportunities, and strategies to address areas of concern."

As a result of the data retreats, both Acevedo and Sover have observed more widespread use of data throughout the school system. "People seek our support in understanding the implications of using data at the district, school, and classroom level," Sover said.

"Prior to the retreat, staff were overwhelmed with the amount of data and with what the data represented," said Acevedo. "Aligning data to goals and activities as a way to measure progress was reinforced. The opportunity to actually work with the data helped alleviate the fear of data." Chumbley feels confident that how the schools and district use data has changed. "Based on their enhanced understanding of their data, and the innovative processes introduced to help them look at their data, a more effective decision-making process is in place," he said.

The proof of improvement is in the data. The schools in Carpentersville were removed from the academic watch list. Both Acevedo and Sover said the data retreats played a pivotal role in helping staff gather and analyze data and then establish goals and benchmarks.

Data retreats garner high marks from district
According to post data retreat survey results from the Carpentersville (Ill.) District 300, 95 percent of the participants can apply their new knowledge and skills to their job. And 93 percent would recommend data retreats to other schools and districts.

Carmen Acevedo, the district's director of Title I, English as a second language, and bilingual education, and Sally Sover, the district's literacy leader emphatically said they'd recommend the data retreats to other districts. Acevedo and Sover said the retreats are practical and user friendly. "The retreats aren't just a training event; they're part of an overall school improvement process," Acevedo and Sover said.

To learn about how data retreats can inform your school- or district- improvement plans, call Learning Point Associates at 800-252-0283, or for more information on using data to drive good decisions, visit online at www.learningpt.org/datause.

Copyright© 2004 LRP Publications. What's Working: Data-Driven Decision-Making In The Schools. Reprinted with permission. To subscribe, call 800-341-7874 or visit online at www.lrp.com/store.


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