By Marjorie Clegg, former Head of Quality Assurance at the Ottawa-Carleton DSB
One of the most rewarding experiences for me is to see teachers, principals and parents getting excited about data. As a researcher, I expect to feel the passion myself, but it wasn’t until I started helping school improvement teams use their data that I saw it in others. Of course, they weren’t excited about the numbers but about the information those numbers gave them as a starting point for discussions on how to help their students succeed.
When I was part of the Ottawa Carleton District School Board team responsible for providing some of this information to schools—and helping them use it—I organized time for the school improvement teams to get together and discuss the results of various kinds of testing. These teams, which often included principal, teachers and parents, and sometimes students, would spend time looking at the data, asking questions and putting all the pieces together.
As a school board, we had a lot of data to share at the school level, including results of EQAO testing, board-wide testing in mathematics, ability-testing, the Early Development Instrument and report cards. In addition, we had developed a “needs index,” which included a wide range of data on student demographics, some of which were summarized for schools to use in their planning. Finally, schools were asked to bring other information they thought might be relevant, such as absentee rates and school- or classroom-based assessment results.
Before the school improvement sessions, we made sure we provided the principals, as instructional leaders, with the knowledge and experience to use data effectively. We reinforced this professional development by extending it to teachers and other team members during the school improvement sessions, making sure to stress the following:
Considering context is critical—not as an excuse but as an aide to deciding on strategies that might work to improve student achievement. The commitment to consider context resulted in, among other things, our school profiles, which report test results and summaries of school improvement plans within the context of school demographics, activities,
We know that each class is different, just as each student is different, and changes in achievement should be interpreted accordingly. For this reason, looking at change through a school year might be an additional step in the process.
We also provided a checklist to help schools consolidate their information from different sources.
Most important, however, we provided the time to discuss what to do next, to look at what could be done to improve achievement at the school. To help with these discussions, we provided hard copies of research on instructional practices or strategies, including those developed by EQAO based on results from provincial testing. The resulting discussions were often wonderful to participate in, with new ideas, suggestions or affirmations heard throughout the room: “Yes, let’s try that!”
Schools got a good start on their improvement plans during the session, using a template provided by the school board. At this stage, superintendents played a key role in the process, reviewing the plans and visiting schools to discuss progress.
Though the teams were there to discuss school results and come up with strategies or plans for the school as a whole, we did spend time talking about the necessity of looking at individual students.
“Strive toward personal excellence,” “strive toward success” and “reach personal potential.” Those of us who work in schools and boards are used to seeing these phrases in our mission statements—and believing in them for both ourselves and our students.
We are always looking for ways to improve achievement one student at a time. Data are the springboard to conversations leading the way to improvement. Teachers are the key to making this happen. Some teachers have recently adopted the “data wall” as a way of displaying information about a particular student for discussion among professional staff at the school.
Here are some of the questions and methods we encouraged schools to consider:
Teachers can and do use data from a variety of sources to measure where a student is, including running records, anchor booklets and exemplars, classroom assessments, ability and achievement test results (e.g., CCAT and EQAO), report card marks, absentee rates, teacher observation, homework completion and student attitudes.
Set sensible but challenging goals for the student to work toward.
Periodically through the year, measure where students are (e.g., through running records or classroom assessments). Report progress for individuals and the group as a whole. Use more than one data source! Consult many of the same sources that were used to determine where the students were at the beginning of the year and compare those results with where students are at the end of the year.
Most important, use data to talk about students and their achievements. This process can form the basis of an individual student plan—or a school action plan or improvement plan. The excitement comes from looking at the data and deciding what to do next. Moving students forward—one at a time—eventually adds up to a whole school.