Several years ago, the leadership of Paramus Public Schools, N.J., began the search for a software solution to enable them to launch a major initiative to implement district-level assessments. The district’s goal was to make available key student performance data so that educators and administrators could better support the needs of their students and so the district could better support the professional development needs of its staff.
Christine Diaz—the district’s supervisor of staff development, instructional technology, and assessment—says district leadership conducted a national search for the right solution. “At that time, we had no district-level assessments. There was no measuring stick for gauging performance and gathering insights,” she recalls, noting that the district selected SunGard K-12 Education’s PerformancePLUS because it offered all the functionality the district was looking for in a single solution.
Part of the PLUS 360 suite, PerformancePLUS provides a single connection point for anywhere, anytime access to a school district’s assessment data. The software helps track longitudinal assessment results through interactive graphs correlated to state standards. Teachers and administrators have the ability to aggregate and disaggregate assessment data and use this information to establish and monitor goals, modify curriculum, and ultimately enhance the teaching and learning environment. In addition, PerformancePLUS offers educators a simple way to create, score, and analyze local assessments, making them a powerful solution set to help guide instruction.
Nurturing a Data-Focused Culture
Today, the district has created a culture that relies on data for insights.
“All of our district benchmark testing is done through PerformanceTRACKER,” says Diaz. “PerformancePLUS is robust in terms of what it offers. Our educators can mine so much data. At the beginning of the year, our teachers are good at going in and looking up the scores from the previous year—seeing how the students did and diagnosing their areas of strength and weakness. We are looking at proficiency levels, and we are having conversations about the data.”
The transformation didn’t happen overnight. It required effort to foster these unprecedented discussions about the numbers and what they really mean in terms of student performance.
For example, Diaz said the district started to require that educators complete a formal analysis of their data in some areas. “We had them identify what percentages of their students were proficient, partially proficient, and advanced proficient,” she explains. “Then they ran PerformancePLUS’ standards analysis report to see how their group did compared to the rest of the district. They’d list the areas of weakness for their particular group and the areas of strength. And, then they described what factors they thought contributed to the weaknesses and what they were going to do to address it.”
Personalizing Professional Development with PerformancePLUS
Diaz often ends up on the front lines of educator professional development for PerformancePLUS. Key to the success of the district’s teaching staff is Diaz’s personalized approach to training teachers.
“PerformanceTRACKER has so many fabulous reports,” she explains, noting that she and other members of district leadership have identified reports that are important for administrators and teachers and then focus professional development activities on familiarizing their staff with the forms and highlighting insights that can be drawn from them. “As they come in, new teachers are required to attend a PerformancePLUS training session with me so they understand how to use the system.”
Diaz believes smaller groups are an essential ingredient in successful professional development activities. “You can’t do technology training in a general faculty meeting. There are too many people. There’s too much confusion. Too many different levels of users,” she says. “So, when we’re rolling out something new, I know it’s best to go to every department in the high school, every team meeting at the middle school, and every faculty meeting in the elementary school. I also offer follow-up sessions for those who need more assistance, and our administrative team works with teachers individually as well.”
And, for this administrator who manages staff development for the district, PerfomancePLUS provides insights that support her in coaching her teaching staff to excellence.
For example, Diaz uses PerformancePLUS to calculate the median Student Growth Percentile (SGP) for district educators and makes that important data available to them much earlier in the year than the state does. By providing this data as early in the school year as possible, Diaz supports district educators in improving their effectiveness and ultimately supports improved student achievement.
“Because this counts toward their evaluation, they need time to look at it and understand what it is,” says Diaz. “SGP is shifting our focus from just looking at overall student proficiency to looking at student growth. You want to move every student forward.” And with PerformancePLUS data at their fingertips, Paramus educators are gaining the insights to do just that.