The Flashlight Blog

The Flashlight blog is an online conversation featuring illuminating perspectives on education data use.

Bernice Butler posted on October 8, 2015. 0 Comments

Data Works for Students in Henrico County

Category: Local Data Use

Five years ago leaders in Virginia’s Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) realized they were not meeting the needs of all of their students. While school achievement and graduation rates were notable in the aggregate, students with disabilities had higher disciplinary rates and lower graduation rates than their peers.

Henrico began providing parents of special education students with access to districtwide data, allowing them to compare school-by-school performance across a wide range of data points. Administrators and the public were hesitant about the public presentation of less-than-perfect data on how their students with disabilities were doing was met, but HCPS did not let this reluctance get in the way of identifying the places they needed to improve.

“The reality is, we can’t improve what we can’t talk about. I think this helped us talk about it in a way that wasn’t blaming, that wasn’t hurtful, but was just a reality, comparing students with disabilities against other students with disabilities,” said Dr. Bondy Shay Gibson, former deputy superintendent of instruction.

Effective parent engagement requires two-way communication. HCPS listened to what parents want to know and provided transparent information on their special education programs. Through surveys specific to parents of students with disabilities, Henrico measures parent engagement and community buy-in and shares this information with teachers and administrators. The district has seen increases in the number of parents who feel informed about their child’s progress. The district shares this information with teachers and administrators to make sure they are meeting the needs of the community. HCPS also created a Special Education Advisory Committee of parents who can access and compare data from 72 schools to ensure that every special education student across the district has the best possible experience.

Henrico’s engagement strategy has been paired with an individualized instruction strategy, the combined program resulting in the discipline of students with disabilities decreasing by 32 percent and graduation rates for students with disabilities increasing by 12 percent. Because leaders prioritized using information to understand student needs, students with disabilities and their families now have access to clear and concise data to engage families as active partners in using data to understand student progress, ensuring that they are informed advocates in each student’s education.

“We’ve gotten requests from other localities who’ve come and looked at our page. Or our parents have sent them: ‘Look what this county does, they give me all of this information. I can look across 72 different schools, specifically at students with disabilities, and see how they’re doing.’ And this should be available everywhere . . .” said Gibson.


Bernice Butler posted on October 7, 2015. 0 Comments

Data Works for Students in Tacoma

Category: Local Data Use

Tacoma Public Schools in Washington State was facing an unacceptable graduation rate of 55 percent. Every high school within its borders had been declared a dropout factory, and the community felt voiceless.  In 2012 Superintendent Carla Santorno and her team started a plan of action that would change the face of public education in the district.

When developing a culture of data use in a school district, the support of stakeholders is crucial. Parents and the community must see the effort as a friendly tool to support ongoing improvement. Superintendent Santorno and her team created a “safe space” for community members to dig into less-than-perfect performance data at open school board meetings. The district worked with the community to develop a common language and definitions. Working hand-in-hand with school leaders and community partners, Santorno and her team then re-evaluated the existing plan for the district and identified data-driven goals for student academic success, safety, early learning, and community partnerships.

Fostering a safe space for data use within schools is also crucial to creating a supportive culture. “There are two things that inhibit people from using data. Number one is that they’re scared of it. Number two is once they understand what it says, they don’t know what to do with it,” Santorno said. Data literacy training and professional development were vital to ensuring teachers overcame those concerns. Principals were trained as data leaders to ensure information was used to inform conversations and inspire action. Tacoma also created time and space for collaboration between teachers across grade levels to examine data.

The district was able to set and work toward their goals because it had the information it needed to measure progress. Since then Tacoma Public Schools has seen increases in student achievement, partnerships, and community support. The community has a voice again, and students are on track for success. Graduation rates have climbed for four consecutive years and are up 23 percent since 2010. Additionally, participation in college-level courses has increased more than 20 percent in two years, and more than 90 percent of 11th and 12th graders take the PSAT and SAT college entrance exams.

“The more we can look at data that’s not just a test score that also tell a story that we’re building success, I think that will help build a better system,” Santorno said.

Find out more about great data use in service of student learning in Data Works for Students.


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