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.