Desert Sands Unified School District (DSUSD) is located in southeastern California, 130 miles east of Los Angeles. It serves K-12 33 schools with a student population totaling 29,300. For the past five years the district has been using a fully School Interoperability Framework (SIF) compliant environment in which main software applications and hardware are centralized at the district office (i.e. food services, Student Information System, assessment tools, library, human resources, etc). The SIF environment allows the software systems to communicate information between programs, eliminating the need to enter data more than once.
One benefit of this type of environment is the ability to integrate customized software, such as the Desert Sands Assessment Tool (DSAT). DSAT is an assessment and reporting tool that allows for assessments of all types, including district benchmarks and textbook- and teacher-generated assessments, which are then aligned to state content standards. DSAT lets teachers administer timely assessments via scan forms, student response systems, or online for immediate feedback on student achievement. When a teacher assigns an assessment through DSAT and aligns the questions to the California State Standards, DSAT provides item analysis and alignment reports. Teachers are able to determine the standards in which students are deficient and plan targeted individualized instruction to meet the needs of each student.
Dr. Carreon Academy and Martin Van Buren Elementary School provide a perfect example of the benefits of using assessment data, as one of the main components for students’ achievement.
Even though all schools in the district are using this SIF environment and improvement of student achievement is evident in all schools, it is in these two schools where the academic achievement is soaring. The two schools are located in the city of Indio with a very high (more than 90 percent) population of low income and limited English-speaking students. In 2003, Dr. Carreon Academy opened its doors to students from five neighboring elementary schools. The students in 5th grade, after nearly a school year of instruction at Carreon, completed the California Standards Test (CST) exams with 30 percent proficient in ELA and 21 percent proficient in math. With consistent weekly teacher collaboration and analysis of student data and adjustment of student placement in flexible groups, students who attended Dr. Carreon from kindergarten in 2003 and took the CST in 2009 improved significantly from the 5th graders who first attended Dr. Carreon in 2003. With six years of instruction, overall 5th grade scores soared to 62 percent proficient in ELA and 76 percent proficient in math.
In 2004, Van Buren Elementary completed a site modernization. At this time, it was in year four of program improvement with 16 percent proficiency in ELA and 32 percent proficiency in mathematics. Its Academic Performance Index (API) was at 588 with little use of data analysis, professional collaboration, and staff accountability. The API is a number, ranging from a low of 200 to a high of 1000, which reflects a school’s and local education agency’s or subgroup’s performance level, based on the results of statewide testing. New leadership adopted the model established by Dr. Carreon Academy and the program has expanded each year with rising test scores. After one year of integrating grade level data analysis days, flexible grouping of students for content areas, and successful computer programs, the school’s API improved to 637.
Van Buren continued to integrate Dr. Carreon Academy’s model as well as add pieces of its own, such as an amplification system, student recognition wall, and a comprehensive after-school program called The 350 Club. The 350 Club, a site-mandated after school program, targets basic and barely proficient students in ELA and is run by classroom teachers for one hour a day, four days a week to improve language arts skills using Success Maker. After two years of teacher collaboration, data analysis, and program implementation The 350 Club improved to a CST performance level of 4.0–Early Advanced.