Education stakeholders and reformers increasingly focus on data to help inform instruction and offer clues on student achievement patterns, and a partnership among three organizations aims to help districts use data in pursuit of those goals.

“Closing the Gap: Turning Data into Action” is a collaboration among the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and Gartner Inc., a global information technology research and advisory company, to support schools as they move forward in implementing these new systems and practices.

As the initiative matures, participating districts are sharing how they are using student data to impact classroom practice and student achievement.

Officials in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) hope to move toward “having data at the classroom level, where teachers can talk about student data and what it means to them,” said Ted Davis, director of information technology at FCPS. “[We will] have the opportunity to use that data in a real-time manner to impact instruction.”

(Next page: How FCPS uses student data)

Here’s how FCPS is using student data:

  • When the district began using the Electronic Curriculum Assessment Resource Tool (eCART) system, which gives teachers and school administrators access to web-based, district-approved curriculum, assessments, tools, and resources, it gained the ability to gather and use formative data as well. That increased the data available to teachers, who analyze that data and use it to positively impact instruction.
  • FCPS created a learning environment for students, teachers, and parents that fosters communication, collaboration, sharing of instructional resources, and both independent and group learning, and then enhanced that learning environment by integrating tools that support the instructional cycle.
  • The district’s next step is to “put that data into the hands of students, to give them the ability to take ownership of their learning and start to manage their own education,” Davis said.

FCPS invested in technology in part to “build up a data culture,” said Aaron Sterling, an FCPS technology specialist.

Establishing a close working relationship with the district curriculum department is important when it comes to collecting, interpreting, and leveraging student data, said Robert Calvert, chief information officer for Houston’s Fort Bend Independent School District.

In 2006, Fort Bend took a hard look at classroom instruction and placed a focus on improving student grades, which is where data-driven decision-making came into play. The district implemented the Leadership and Learning Center’s Data Teams methodology to focus on critical needs of the district’s campuses, curriculum, and students.

Here’s how Fort Bend ISD is using student data:

  • Under the Data Teams methodology, which uses “small, grade-level department, course, content, or organizational teams that collaboratively analyze data and select instructional strategies in order to drive instruction and improve professional practice,” district leaders developed an internal curriculum that met state requirements, student academic needs, and district goals.
  • Members on the data teams reviewed assessments, graded student activities, and determined appropriate enrichment or remediation strategies while developing collective lesson plans.
  • They created a Pacing Guide, along with a central repository of certified assessment resources, to support those efforts.
  • District teams created a comprehensive accountability framework and a continuous improvement process outline.
  • Administrators designated “helping teachers” to help other educators understand the data, what it means, and ensure that instructional materials and practices meet those needs.

“Make sure the public understands what you’re doing. Having parents understand what you’re doing, and why data analysis is important, [is key],” Calvert advised.  “You can’t do this unless you have of course the data, but you also have to have dedicated resources to do that.”

(Next page: How a California district uses student data)

California’s Sanger Unified School District wanted to replace its existing data tool, which generated assessments and aggregated data, in favor of professional learning communities (PLCs).

The district needed the ability to generate common formative assessments that provided regular data on student learning, and it also needed a method of generating data on student achievement gains after interventions. Because English Language Learners (ELLs) make up 25 percent of Sanger ISD, district officials also wanted to monitor ELL progress.

Here is how Sanger USD is using student data:

  • Each school principal in the district delivers an annual public report that includes a five-year disaggregated analysis of student data.
  • A District Progress Assessment is developed and administered three times each year to measure student progress and achievement in terms of mastering essential standards.
  • Educators developed an ELL assessment to monitor ELL student gains and struggles.
  • The district generated common formative assessments that provide regular data on student learning between administration of the District Progress Assessment

“Having data is great, but it’s not the answer—it’s responding to the data that’s the answer,” said Marc Johnson, the district’s superintendent.

Sanger said district leaders and educators follow four basic questions when they approach student learning:

  1. What do educators want students to learn?
  2. How do educators know students learned it?
  3. How do educators respond when they know learning has not occurred?
  4. How do educators respond when they know learning has already occurred?

The role of leadership is especially important, he said, because school leaders “lead the learning at the schools.”