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Data Speaks Louder than Words…but remember to read between the lines and dig deeper

“My observations and experiences in a nutshell.”

Credit: dataspeakslouder.com

In with the New, Out with the Old

I have been visiting classrooms and observing instruction since 2004 when I was an instructional coach. What I have noticed is that most charter schools have a very good grasp of their data because the data can either make or break them. In other words, the data can either help them renew and/or replicate or hinder their renewal and/or intent to multiply.

We are all aware that in 2013, major changes were initiated in our accountability standards and metrics with the passage of Assembly Bill 484, which presented the new statewide assessment system, California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP), associated or aligned with the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  The era of the California Standards Test (CST), Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR), and Academic Performance Index (API) as indicators of student achievement came to a close after 15 years. 

Change is difficult, but it is the only constant. It is important to note that major change does not equate to major reform. Our accountability system is now different, therefore, we must think about and measure reform through this new accountability lens. 

API Trained us to Value and Rely Heavily on Data

Reflecting back, it was the advent of the API that forced us to pay more attention to student performance data. To put it another way, it was the public display of the API that slowly crept into our bloodline and conditioned us to seek out data, to provide us with information about student learning. Albeit, the API had its shortcomings but when it was suspended in 2014 educators were scrambling to find a proven and reliable internal assessment system that would continue to provide valuable information on student learning. Although the API measured one metric, academic achievement, we all came to heavily rely on it as an indicator of student progress and school success.

The Critical Move from a Single Metric to Multiple Metrics       

Welcome, California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP), Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the new California School Dashboard. Much broader in scope, the Dashboard includes multiple indicators that measure student achievement that include English language arts and math assessment scores, progress of English learners, suspension rates, and high school graduation rates. Additionally, chronic absenteeism and a college and career indicator are also being captured in the data starting fall 2018. The state is still refining this accountability system and will most likely continue to do so, as practitioners provide valuable input from the field.

That brings me to the title of this article…

Data Speaks Louder than Words but We Must Also Read Between the Lines and Dig Deeper

The key to data analysis is looking at the data to provide answers to specific questions. Those answers then guide us in reflecting about our work, adjusting lesson plans, creating and implementing intervention classes, and drafting school improvement plans. Moreover, the data may also reveal areas of strength highlighting strategies and systems that are making a difference.

I propose looking at two levels of questions around data. Level A Questions are obvious, speak louder than words and, for the most part, are black and white. On the other hand, Level B Questions are less obvious, require us to dig deeper, to read between the lines, and to understand the context around the data. Level B questions are critical to effectively tackling the issues head on. Following are some examples of Level A and Level B questions:

Level A Questions

o  What percentage of students are performing at Met and Exceeded categories in English Language Arts?

o  What percentage of students are performing at Met and Exceeded categories in Math?

o  How are subgroups of students performing?

o  What is the school’s reclassification rate?

o  What is the school’s Long-term English Learner rate?

o  What is the school’s suspension rate?

o  What is the school’s graduation rate?

o  How is Charter School doing compared to schools that the students would have otherwise attended?

o  How is Charter School doing compared to neighboring schools?

Level B Questions

o  By what percentage has the performance of the cohort of students changed within the last three years in English Language Arts?

o  By what percentage has the performance of the cohort of students changed within the last three years in Math?

o  How many of the school’s English Learners also belong to another category or protected class?

o  How many English Learners initially enrolled as Long Term English Learners at the middle and/or high school? Which elementary and/or middle schools are these students coming from? Has there been vertical articulation (with those schools) to ensure that the reclassification process is being followed with adequate supports to ensure that more students reclassify prior to matriculating to the next level?

o  How do teachers treat students every single day? Is there a culture of respect?

o  How is discipline handled? 

o  What supports are present for students and families?

As an instructional leader, the answers to Level A and Level B questions are critical in guiding the school to the next step of improvement. So the next time you feel compelled to speak about data, make sure you consider the answers to those Level B questions as well to truly understand a school’s successes and areas for growth. Because after all, digging deeper and reading between the lines will only help us.

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