the words Turnaround Tuesdays

How we turned around our data culture and student learning

See how a high-poverty rural district taught its staff to dig into the data to understand its students


Fairfield County Schools is a small, rural, high-poverty school district in South Carolina. The district is composed of five elementary schools and four secondary schools, serving more than 2,600 students.

Biggest challenge:

We wanted to refine our data culture and dig deeper into our data to determine external factors that could be impacting student achievement and growth. In order to do so, we had to find ways to help school leaders understand their students’ progress and needs more holistically.


In 2017, we adopted Schoolzilla’s Mosaic District Progress Monitoring platform to enable principals to easily examine their school’s trends, with a focus on analyzing equity across different populations, such as gender, grade level, and race/ethnicity. After principals became familiar with the data tracked and analyzed in Mosaic, each principal developed two SMART goals and used the new tool to measure their progress against those goals over the course of the school year.

Related: 6 steps for using data to improve instruction

Having this kind of data at our fingertips prompted school leaders to wonder what they could do to respond thoughtfully to the data, versus just reach. Principals quickly noted trends, then used the data to develop interventions for students that could improve things like attendance, reduce suspensions and other disciplinary challenges, and ultimately improve learning and achievement.

For example, Geiger Elementary principal Myra Bramlett learned from their state ELA data that their scores were slipping a little and her kids were struggling with citing evidence and with answering higher-level questions that show they truly understand the text. To address these challenges, Bramlett provided ongoing support and professional development focused on English language arts. She also focused on increasing the school’s attendance rate to ensure that all students are receiving maximum instructional time. Strategies included schoolwide outreach such as resources and tips on maximizing attendance, a “tardy table” out front that encouraged parents to arrive on time, and targeted outreach to families of students who were identified in Mosaic as chronically late or absent.

Related: Data-informed instruction can affect every lesson; here’s how

The data in Mosaic also allowed principals to see how other schools were doing compared to them—not just on test scores but on metrics like attendance and discipline for key subgroups. As Bramlett says, “The ability to see other schools’ scores also serves as a motivation and encouragement to my teachers, showing them higher scores are possible.”

Lessons learned:

  • To better meet the needs of the schools changing student population, we had to create a strong data culture in which we study the data behind student scores and grades. We looked at the whole child, not just at their academic results, and questioned the “why” behind their results to figure out where factors such as attendance or behavior might be influencing their outcomes.
  • We knew that our solutions couldn’t come from the top down; we would have to engage principals and teachers in getting to know their students’ needs better, and carefully tracking their progress in addressing those needs.
  • Having the right data at their fingertips empowered school leaders to thoughtfully respond to the data rather than react to it.

Next steps:

We plan to have teachers start using the Mosaic platform this year. In the meantime, principals have been reviewing last year’s test scores and progress against their SMART goals and establishing new ones for the current school year as they keep pushing toward increased equity among student groups and improved learning for all Fairfield County students.

Next week:

See how a district created an immersive learning environment.

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