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.
Students in The 350 Club made huge strides in their education, so much so that the program was expanded to grades 1-3. Scores continue to increase each year with an astounding 848 API and 59 percent proficient in ELA and 74 percent proficient in math for the CST in 2009. Van Buren was recognized in the state’s top 100 High Performing Elementary Schools that serve significant numbers of English learners and economically disadvantaged students in 2008-2009; in 2010 it was recognized as a California State Distinguished School.
Data cleanliness is an additional benefit. DSUSD’s student information system is the core of the SIF environment and all other applications receive data from it. Student data travels between these applications; therefore teachers never need to enter student names for assessments, report cards, or any other type of reports. In addition, business intelligence solutions provide many types of real, live access to information for teachers and administrators, allowing them to make decisions with real data and not based on obsolete reports. The next steps in implementation are aimed at providing individualized support to students and teachers.
The following is an example of how the system currently functions in an average middle school classroom: A student comes to class with assignments from the day before and quietly enters the answer into the responder located at his/her desk, while the teacher waits for everyone to finish and reviews the results with the class. The teacher can then modify the instruction according to the needs of the students. The teacher clicks publish and the homework is placed on the online Gradebook, where parents can see the results via the internet. This is a typical activity in DSUSD’s classrooms today for all type of student assessments. The additional pieces that DSUSD will add in this scenario are related to differentiated instruction. After the student enters the answers for the daily assessment/homework if they miss a concept, immediately the teacher sees options for students to master the unlearned concept. The assessment results will be connected with a curriculum matrix that provides online resources that are aligned to the standards and content from the textbooks, as well as different pieces of online and open source content from the web. Because the system is web-based, students can access the same information from anywhere in the school.
There are many advantages to enhancing the SIF environment by adding the curriculum matrix of DSUSD’s program. Students will receive the individualized support they need for advancement or remediation of specific content and skills. Students do not need to search the library or study a complete chapter in the remediation software to find the specific skill they need to practice. The curriculum matrix located in the SIF environment will integrate very specific content for students to increase student achievement.
Dr. George Araya obtained his Doctoral degree in Administration and Leadership from Loma Linda University in 1991. In September that year he was hired as a Math teacher in Palm Desert High School, in Desert Sands Unified School District. After two years in the classroom he was hired as Director of Educational Technology. The district created that position in 1993. Since 1993 to date Dr. Araya has been responsible for the implementation of the Metropolitan Area Network and all the technologies that are in place today in the district.
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