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Success Story

Take a Data Retreat, Empower Your Staff to Organize, Use Data

It's a common story in districts across the country—there are large amounts of unorganized and underused data with no connection to school or district improvement plans. But with an organized training approach, your district can learn how to use data to drive instruction, improve student achievement, and create an environment that supports and sustains a culture that uses data.

Canton (Ill.) Union School District 66 is proof that the right training can turnaround how a district views data. For Superintendent Ralph Grimm and Jeanne Serven, the district's director of curriculum and instruction, the greatest challenge was pinpointing specific causes for low achievement. "Although we could see challenges in general areas, we were uncertain how to provide the most meaningful assistance to subgroups of students and staff to make a positive impact on student achievement," Grimm said.

Grimm and Serven were looking for a systemic way to collect, sort, and interpret district data. "We had data within our individual schools and the district as a whole, but no cohesive way to collect, examine, and utilize it to its fullest capacity," Serven said. "We had the technology needed but lacked the knowledge of how to make it work for us."

Grimm and Serven also wanted to find a way to use data to drive changes in instruction, assessment, and professional development.

To train its staff, the district turned to Illinois-based Learning Point Associates, which houses the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and helps districts learn how to use data effectively.

CUSD decided Learning Point Associates data retreat service would be a good way to spend time honing in on how data could drive school improvement efforts.

Data Retreats last for 2 1/2 days and center on an eight-step process (see box).

Mix Practical Tips With Big Picture View

Here are the eight steps involved in a data retreat.

  1. Setting the context.
  2. Collecting and organizing data. The first step of the data retreat is a half day preliminary meeting that covers the first two steps. Staff learn what the retreat involves and get help identifying locally available data related to student achievement, demographics, programs, and perception. They also make plans to bring the data to the retreat in electronic or paper form.
  3. Analyze data patterns. Participants sort data and look for patterns using research-based methods. The important question to ask during this step is, "Where are we now?"
  4. Develop hypotheses. Participants brainstorm to look for meaning in their data patterns and develop hypotheses, which they accept or reject based on their concrete findings.
  5. Develop improvement goals. Participants learn to develop goals that are few in number, clear, data-based, measurable, attainable, reached by consensus, and will make a positive impact. The key question is, "Where do we want to go?"
  6. Design specific strategies. Groups develop specific research-based strategies for each improvement goal, build timelines, assign homework to team members, and decide on how to observe and measure progress. They key question is, "How will we get there?"
  7. Define evaluation criteria. It's important to decide how teams will recognize progress. In this step, teams answer the question, "What will success look like when we get there?"
  8. Make the commitment. Finally, the team must set up a checks-and-balances system to stay on track and committed to measuring progress. The driving question for this step is, "How will we sustain the effort?"

Since the retreat, Grimm and Serven said they've noticed a new sense of confidence among their faculty and building administrators with regard to understanding and using data. Now, school staff is excited when state assessment results come in, Serven said. "They sort it, code it, and look for patterns that identify areas of strength or areas in need of improvement," she said.

The district is already seeing the results of staff's newfound knowledge. An elementary school in the district received a blue ribbon award from a national No Child Left Behind Act recognition program. A middle school was nominated for the Horizon Schools: School to Watch award.

Grimm believes the retreat helped lead his district toward these awards because it can now connect school and district improvement goals based on data and trend information. Looking for trends and evidence of change are habits.

"We make every attempt to model our decisions at the administrative and district levels after the kind of behavior we are seeking," Grimm said. "Data drives nearly every school decision we make."

For more information on data retreats, call 800-252-0283.

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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