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Press Release: Delaware Recognized for Data-Guided Educational Initiatives

Delaware recently was recognized as one of the first two states to attain the Data Quality Campaign’s State Actions to Ensure Effective Data Use. In its annual report, the Data Quality Campaign highlighted Delaware for its quality implementation and suggested that the state can serve as a model for other states.

Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy says data is key to improving student achievement. “In essence, our job at the state level is to empower people to use data. If we did not have data then we would certainly not be able to make well-informed policy decisions,” says Secretary Murphy. “Data removes us from using anecdotes and assumptions when making decisions. Instead, we can use research and facts to guide our choices.”

Over the past several years, the state has launched a series of data initiatives that have bolstered educators’ understanding, which in turn has supported student success. These initiatives have taken the mystery out of student achievement.

“Our understanding now of what happens with our educators and what happens with our students over time is much more sophisticated than it was just a couple of years ago,” Secretary Murphy says. “So if you put the data out there in digestible formats and if you have a committed state board, a committed governor, and a committed legislature, then you start to make decisions based on that data that are in the best interest of students.”

Building Infrastructure to Support Student Success
Pat Bush, Delaware Department of Education’s director of technology resources and data development, says the state’s efforts to build the infrastructure necessary to sustain a data-driven culture are made easier because all school districts in the state are using the same data systems.

“It’s much easier to take a look at data quality when you’re looking at a singular implementation system versus multiple disparate data entry points,” he explains. “We don’t have to train our staff on multiple ways to input and manage data. Our primary data input strategy is through the eSchoolPLUS student information system, which really is the single source of truth for all the districts and charters. I believe the fact that we have a single student information system across the state is probably one of the strongest pieces of infrastructure and enterprise architecture that we could have implemented.”

The state of Delaware provides all school districts and charters SunGard K-12 Education’s eSchoolPLUS for managing student information, IEPPLUS for managing special education, and PerformancePLUS for tracking student performance and building local assessments. The administrative software is deployed to the school districts and charter schools via a private cloud environment inside the state’s firewall.

Information from these systems is integrated and shared with the districts via a longitudinal data warehouse and performance management dashboards, collectively known as “Education Insight.” The system, which was developed thanks to Race to the Top (RTT) funding, is based on the Ed-Fi (Education Fidelity) Standards and the Ed-Fi dashboard code base that is licensed at no cost to member states through the Ed-Fi Alliance.

Bush notes the consistency of data supports Delaware’s success.

“All of our data rolls up into a central operational data store from the single student information source. It then can be presented in a more efficient manner without having to do unnecessary ETLs (extract, transform, and load) routines,” he explains. “It’s just much simpler to manage data from a single student information system. The learning curve is less for technical and user groups, the Total Cost of Ownership for the information systems are substantially lower, and we are able to meet requirements faster.”

The consistency of data and common user interface also promotes collaboration among districts. “I think the ability for them to talk to each other about how they’ve worked through different scenarios and issues is an intangible benefit of operating from a single system,” Bush says. “It’s not something anybody ever thinks about on the front end of an implementation. But I think if you ask them today, they would probably say it works much better than being on their own island.”

From this common and standardized platform, Bush notes that Delaware is able to efficiently leverage existing architecture and launch other infrastructure initiatives to support student achievement. For example, Delaware was recently awarded a $1.5 million grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to extend its Ed Insight data warehouse and data systems to support pre-K through second grade Ed-Fi-based dashboards, reports, and data systems. The project, called Early Learning Insight (ELI), is a collaborative effort between the Office of Early Learning and Delaware’s Department of Education that will not only create these dashboards and reports for Delaware schools but also will make them available to all Ed-Fi member states.

Creating a Data-Driven Culture
In addition to building infrastructure, Delaware also leveraged the RTT funding to launch initiatives to support the development of a data-driven culture in the state’s school districts, says Christopher Ruszkowski, chief officer of Delaware Department of Education’s Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Unit.

“When we were awarded RTT, the centerpiece of the entire initiative was ensuring that educators had Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) in every single school, particularly for those educators in the core content areas,” he explains. “Very early into the RTT initiatives, we put a stake in the ground that required all schools to have 90 minutes weekly of PLC time. We offered them a couple models for implementation with supports and resources. It’s an important way for the state to play a role in terms of building the sandbox and showing folks where the parameters are.”

To support this transition, the Delaware Department of Education deployed data coaches to schools. “The data coaches meet schools where they are in their trajectory, help them understand what types of data they’re going to need to look at, take the PLCs through a cycle of inquiry, and set up structures and agendas to help them reflect on what data they have at their disposal,” says Ruszkowski.

New Delaware teachers with their initial license are required to undergo a mentoring program to move on to a continuing license, says Angeline Rivello, director of teacher and administrator quality development. “Our initial license is good for three years. And, once you complete your mentoring and you have successful evaluations, then you go onto a continuing license, which is a five-year license,” she explains.

Already the PLC structure is transforming the mentoring experience to be more data-driven, says Jon Neubauer, education associate for educator effectiveness. “The PLCs allow mentors and novice educators to have a totally different conversation,” he says. “We saw it go from more of a superficial conversation to these novice educators really getting great content support and data-rich conversations in their PLCs.”

“Most of these novice teachers are coming right out of college. They have the theory, but need support implementing high-quality instruction in the classroom,” says Neubauer. “The PLCs help them focus on instructional strategies and on using data to really address the needs of their students. We’re seeing our novice teachers learning new strategies and techniques in how to use that data.”

Asking the Right Questions
Because it knows that data is only as good as the questions you’re trying to answer with it, the Delaware Department of Education also is setting a research agenda to gain insights on how to improve teaching and learning.

Atnre Alleyne, data strategist with the Harvard Strategic Data Project (SDP), who joined the Delaware Department of Education in 2012 as a result of a partnership with the Rodel and Longwood Foundations, is helping to guide this agenda. He also is nurturing collaboration between districts and supporting the development of strategic analysis capabilities in the districts through the creation and oversight of the Data Analysis Working Group.

Alleyne says that his work has been aided by Delaware’s robust infrastructure and its strong commitment to allow data to influence practice. “Being able to look at data really allows us to ask new questions and examine things that traditionally haven’t been looked at in the education sector,” he says. “And, in Delaware, we have a commitment not only to do sophisticated analyses, but we know that the results will drive action at the state level. That makes our work very exciting.”

For example, when the SDP Human Capital and College-Going Diagnostics, a two-year research project, surfaced important trends, Delaware asked and answered the hard questions.

“We looked at data from eSchoolPLUS, merging in information that you would have on student test score performance with teacher characteristics that you would have in a human resources database. And we were able to find that new teachers in Delaware were more likely to be placed in classes with students who were academically behind,” he says. “These students with about a year of learning difference were coming into classes with our newest teachers. We asked, ‘Given this context, how do we make sure that teachers are ready on day one?’ and ‘How do we change this pattern that further creates learning gaps?’”

As a result of this finding, Senate Bill 51 passed both Delaware’s Senate and House. The bill requires all Delaware teacher preparation programs to set high admission and completion requirements, to provide high-quality student teaching experiences and ongoing evaluation of program participants, and to prepare prospective elementary school teachers in age-appropriate literacy and mathematics instruction. Further, the bill requires preparation programs to track and report data on the effectiveness of their programs.

Alleyne says data is taking the emotion and myths out of education. “When we started our College-Going Diagnostic there was a general sense that some of our Vocational and Technical Schools were taking the best students and, as a result, they were doing well on student performance indicators,” he says. “So, we did an analysis of the degree to which students at a given high school were staying on track to graduate by the end of their first year of high school. During those analyses, we found that Vo-Techs were doing better in keeping students on track to graduate and that two-thirds of their students had eighth-grade test scores at the bottom two quartiles of the state.” And when myths like this are “busted,” Alleyne says truths can surface that support excellence in teaching and learning.

And in Delaware, the findings lead to positive action.

For example, a recent analysis found many highly qualified students in Delaware were not applying to college. “We found that 17 percent of highly qualified students, those who scored 1550 or higher on the SAT, weren’t going to any college. And, when we looked at low-income students who managed to do very well on the SAT, we saw 30 percent of them weren’t going to any college,” says Alleyne. “So this year, we are working with the districts to ensure that they are tracking these students and encouraging them to apply to college, to complete the FASFA application for financial aid, and then hopefully to enroll in college.”

Alleyne noted the state launched a “Summer Nudge Campaign,” which sent letters to students who were ready to go to college but who hadn’t yet applied. The letters shared links to websites to help the student explore colleges and set up a hotline for those who had questions.

With initiatives like these, Delaware is demonstrating its commitment to provide a high-quality education to every child in the state and is realizing its vision of preparing every student for college and career.

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