NCLB has changed the course of education by setting indelible, incremental goals that peak at 100-percent proficiency for all students in reading and mathematics by 2014. Failure results in school and district sanctions, and districts have responded by auditing instructional programs for alignment with state standards. As part of this review process, many districts have examined their assessment systems and developed district tests to help predict student achievement on end-of-year state tests. Districts also have searched for electronic programs that generate tests and, more importantly, store and disaggregate data for both state and local assessments.

For Snowline, a rural Southern California district of 8,000 students, ETS’s Instructional Data Management System (IDMS) fit the need. Prior to using IDMS, district personnel invested hundreds of hours at the beginning of each school year compiling data into bulky district and school-site books. As the district grew, this work became too cumbersome, and administrators began searching for an electronic program that accomplished these tasks. About five years ago, we investigated programs that provided detailed analysis of state data, and IDMS accomplished that task for us.

But to me and my team, it became apparent that if Snowline were to meet NCLB goals, it needed more than just a state analysis program. To improve student achievement, we felt we needed to more closely monitor and adjust instruction. We realized we had to pace instruction, provide opportunities for teachers to build district assessments, and create practical data reports based on the assessments. IDMS was again the answer. The program integrates state data storage and management with interim assessment analysis, and it generates teacher reports for local tests. Data are now stored and analyzed in a web-based electronic program that all teachers and administrators can access.

First developed as a state analysis tool, IDMS became the instrument for ETS’s Focus on Standards (FOS) instructional model. An integrated, five-step model, FOS fully aligns instructional improvement by emphasizing the teaching of essential state standards, calendaring these standards into pacing plans, periodically assessing instruction according to the pacing plans, engaging teachers in structured dialogue about the assessment data, and developing interventions based on teacher discussions about student achievement. IDMS was designed to provide meaningful data reports that teachers could use in these important, structured discussions.

Dave Winward, the curriculum assessment coordinator for Snowline, considers the program almost magical. “The FOS process, and especially the products produced by IDMS, are outstanding. They are exactly what teachers need to improve students’ academic achievement.”

Here’s how the program works: Tests that are manufactured by Snowline teachers are calendared and tagged as they are entered into IDMS in electronic format. The student population is re-rostered according to the calendar to place students in current classes, and answer sheets are produced for each student taking each test by class. The answer documents are then distributed to the school sites and, as soon as testing is completed, collected for scanning. These documents are scanned, and the results are uploaded to ETS servers.

The IDMS program automatically generates specific reports that are predetermined as essential to use by teachers in the improvement process.

Here’s an actual example of how the process works: Snowline fourth-grade teachers during the first trimester taught five mathematics standards according to the fourth-grade pacing plan. At the end of the trimester, a district-wide, teacher-generated assessment was administered to all fourth-grade students. The answer documents were scanned at the district level and uploaded into IDMS. Within hours, teachers were given the results, which were posted on the web-based IDMS program. Within days, in structured school-site meetings, teachers discussed the results based on the standards assessed.

At one school site, fourth-grade teachers found that 66 percent of their students correctly answered the questions that tested mathematics standard Algebra and Functions 1.2, “evaluate mathematical expressions.” Only 42 percent correctly answered the questions testing state standard Number Sense, 1.1, “reading and writing whole numbers in the millions.” The teachers discussed instructional techniques concerning the first standard, but focused on why students tested lower on the second standard. They conferred about “next steps” that resulted in modifying instruction and creating interventions for groups of students. As a result of their interventions, 16 percent more students scored proficient at the end of the year on the state test.

Herein lies the beauty of the program … Within hours of giving tests, teachers are given invaluable IDMS data reports that are used to help make instructional program decisions. This improvement process occurs in structured, teacher meetings that take place after every assessment. Teachers learn to quickly examine the data reports and move to indispensable discussions about data trends. IDMS by itself is not a panacea, but it is an indispensable tool that provides impetus for teacher dialogue, instructional change, and–ultimately–student achievement.

In this data-driven world of accountability, Snowline has continued to grow student achievement. This past year, all schools and the district experienced noticeable gains in state and federal accountability measures. Students earning proficiency according to state tests increased by 7 percentage points, far above the state’s NCLB requirement. All subgroups, such as English-language learners and students with special needs, experienced steady growth as well. As district-wide scores ascended, the district far outdistanced county and state averages.

This school year, Snowline will use IDMS to process more than 125 assessments in first through twelfth grades in the four core subject areas of English/language arts, mathematics, history/social science, and science. Well over 300,000 test pages will be printed and scanned at the district level. The result is well worth the price; the “ah-has” I hear from teachers about student achievement are exponentially greater than any costs in time, effort, and equipment. The process works!

Jim Canter is the assistant superintendent for Snowline School District in Phelan, Calif.