The Flashlight Blog

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

Bernice Butler posted on October 9, 2015. 0 Comments

Data Works for Students in Madison

Category: Local Data Use

School districts that use data effectively work hard to ensure data are useful and high quality—and that data are available quickly enough to be relevant for timely and proactive decisionmaking. The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) in Wisconsin worked intentionally to empower the people working closest with students with the tools to make the best possible decisions for them.

The district uses an early warning system (EWS) as part of a school improvement plan to check in with regular school-based leadership team meetings on how students are doing and how to intervene in real time to help students who are falling off track. The district has used the data to shine light on areas where it was not meeting expectations and created targeted action plans to improve student outcomes.

“We took the early warning system to the next level. . . . We needed to better utilize EWS to help schools create systems and processes to better serve each student and make sure they are on track to graduate,” said Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham. The dashboard allows educators to use five different measures to flag students who may be falling off track so they can intervene.

But systems are only as strong as the people using them. When Superintendent Cheatham came to MMSD, she realized that while the data tools were in place, they weren’t being used to maximize impact on student learning. “It takes one unit of effort to build a technical tool and three to four times that amount to build your users,” said Andrew Statz, executive director of accountability. When Madison launched its school improvement plan, MMSD created training for its school-based leadership teams and principals throughout the entire district, including how to better use tools like the EWS. These leadership teams also provide feedback and proposals for dashboard content to the district so that the systems are best meeting their needs.

Superintendent Cheatham has received feedback directly from teachers that these tools are more targeted to their needs than ever before. “Continuous improvement is important at every level of our system, and grounding that in our strategic framework makes sure everyone is growing in the same direction,” she said.

After one year of using data as a tool to support students who needed extra help, reading growth among third graders improved 7 percent and among fifth graders 11 percent. In the next year the district plans to expand access to this information to increase family and community engagement with the data, in hopes of empowering even more active participants in the education community.

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


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.


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