From Data to Dialogue: Supporting Student Success in Nashville
From building and maintaining a world-class data warehouse to placing data coaches in schools across the district to offering job-embedded professional development, Metro Nashville Public Schools’ commitment to leading a data-informed, collaborative culture has made it possible for educators, parents, and support staff to help students make impressive gains.
For the past four years, Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) has seen a steady rise in achievement scores in English, math, social studies, and science. They’ve also seen a rise in high school graduation rates and a narrowing of the achievement gap.
With support from MNPS Business Intelligence Coordinator, Margie Johnson, innovative practices across the district are helping educators and families use data to improve outcomes for students. Four of these include:
- Support and Intervention Team Meetings: Common planning time for teachers and support staff to discuss student data
- Student Data Chats: Time for students to discuss their own data with their teachers and school principals
- Parent Data Chats: Evening events for parents to learn how to access and interpret their children’s data and how they can help at home
- Data Sharing with Afterschool: Sharing data with afterschool providers so they can be true partners in student success
Each of these practices is described in more detail below.
Support and Intervention Team Meetings
Support and intervention team meetings offer a time for administrators, counselors, teachers, social workers, and family engagement specialists to come together and discuss student data. During this time, the team accesses data points around academics, discipline, and attendance—anything that can impact student achievement. When students are struggling in any one of these areas, they’re given a flag. When students have received two or three flags, the team develops an action plan for how to help those students.
Principals discuss what they know about the students, what’s going on at home, what’s going on with parents. Counselors are at the table and are able to tell social workers about their previous experience with the students. Attendance specialists contribute what they know from doing home visits. “It’s a collaboration. It’s a teaming approach to deal with student needs,” said Alvin Jones, executive director of support services. “Sometimes we don’t ask the question ‘why?’ enough. And that is what the support and intervention meetings allow us to do—collectively and collaboratively ask ‘Why is this happening?’”
According to Adrienne Koger, executive principal at Antioch High School, before the district began making time for support and intervention team meetings, it would take weeks to come back and really implement with fidelity the plans and interventions needed for students. Now, teams are able to come together one time, plan, and implement across the board to support all students. Now they’re able to go deeper in their conversations. “It seems so much more beneficial and focused. We leave our planning sessions—not meetings anymore, but planning sessions—with next steps and we’re able to come back and follow up and track those conversations,” Koger explained.
Student Data Chats
MNPS educators know how important it is for students to “own their data”—to understand their strengths and weaknesses and develop goals for the future.
To help students own their data, MNPS teachers and principals meet individually with each student to discuss their performance on formative assessments and make plans for remediation where necessary.
“One of our best practices with our students and their data is to have them come in and sit with their teachers and we just have an open dialogue, open conversation around what’s going on, what’s happening, how can we better support you?” Koger explained. “That allows the students to not be intimidated by the data conversation or being in a collaborative setting with their teachers. It’s a culture that we really try to establish with students, that we want to hear from you, not just the data. The data tells us, it projects, it tells us where you’ve performed in the past, but we want to hear from you how that’s all aligning, what are you experiencing, how can we help support you in moving forward and pushing through to a whole other level.”
Laura Tyburski, math teacher at Glencliff High School also sees the value in letting students know that teachers and administrators care about their successes and their needs. “The value of having data conversations with their teacher and administration is really powerful,” said. “I speak to my students a lot about how they’re growing and they can look at their data with me, but it really reinforces the importance of what they’re doing when they hear it from an administrator. They start going, ‘Oh, you know, my principal actually talked to me today and they saw that I was proficient’, and they get really excited. Or maybe if they’re not performing where they need to, then they’re like, ‘okay, they’re looking at me, so let me try a little harder.’ It’s good for the kids in both ways.”
According to Tracy Bruno, principal of Isaac Litton Middle School, the data chats also provide a chance to go back to unmastered material rather than moving on without certain skills. “Before, you learned some content, and you were given a test on it, and you never really even went back over the test; you just moved on. Now, we’re going back and reviewing and seeing where they messed up or where they didn’t read the question correctly,” Bruno said “We have more in-depth conversations about where they’re having trouble. They start to understand the questions a little bit better and maybe where they’re being tripped up on the formative assessment. It might have been a clarity problem with the question or it might have been a content issue. We can find out the answers to those questions during these conversations.”
Parent Data Chats
MNPS educators are also making time to talk with parents about their student’s data. According to Jenna Noonan, third grade teacher at Paragon Mills Elementary School, the school’s “data chats” help parents understand what the data means. “We send it home a lot, but they don’t truly understand. So, the more that parents know about where their student is, the better that they can help them at home.”
The chats also provide an opportunity for educators to learn more about where parents see a child is struggling. “The conversations we have with parents, we usually call them data chats. So, parents come in and there may be a concern from their end; there may be a concern from the school’s end, but we take that opportunity to talk about the whole child. We take that opportunity to say, ‘Hey, we may be struggling here academically, we have the potential for more growth, but let’s look at all the factors that play into the student’s overall achievement,’” Koger said. “So, it may be that the student needs an extended day opportunity or tutoring or support; it may be that there’s an attendance issue; maybe there’s some tragic event that’s happened at home that we can go out and support them; it may be a clothing issue. So, we really want to talk about those basic needs, those needs here in the school, and any needs that will extend here and push students further.”
“The way that we’ve translated our data,” said Noonan, “is to make it as simple as possible, using lots of visuals and instead of giving all the information, trying to prioritize and say, this is what’s necessary for them to know, this is what we can exclude, but giving them enough information to get a clear snapshot of where their child is.”
According to Jane Johnson, principal at Paragon Mills Elementary School, parents appreciate the data chats. “The feedback we got from the parents at our data night is that they were very surprised and thankful that they could see and understand what the data was about and how they could help their children to be more successful.”
Data Sharing with Afterschool Partners
An innovative partnership between MNPS and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s afterschool initiative, the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), is allowing afterschool providers access to education data for the students they serve. With parental consent, providers can access student report card data, attendance data, and formative assessment results so they can tailor their tutoring program to individual student needs.
“Afterschool providers want to be seen as a partner and a support for what’s going on in the school day, and without data, particularly data in real time, it’s hard to partner, because if you only get data at the end of a school year, you lost an entire year that you could’ve been working intentionally with that student,” said Adam Yockey, northeast NAZA zone director.
As a result of the MNPS/NAZA partnership, afterschool providers can now get student data when they need it. “We have them check in with the schools at least quarterly,” Yockey explained. “Some students, we’re checking on daily, even more if they have chronic absenteeism or are at risk, but typically, it’s happening on a quarterly basis at this point. As the reporting is growing, we think it will be more accessible, then that can happen every day.”
The data sharing benefits students because it allows afterschool providers to see exactly what their students need support in. “For example, this past semester, we were able to provide some volunteer reading coaches to come twice a week to work with individual students one-to-one, and we used the school data to show us which students were most in need of that type of support,” said Yockey. “Some of the results we had, just over a 12-week span, were students increased one to two to some even three grade levels in their reading ability and we were able to know that because of the real-time data.”
And the data sharing isn’t just schools to afterschool partners. Afterschool providers in Nashville do program quality assessments twice a year. They then share that information with schools and principals, so they can see how providers are improving their programs to meet student needs.