Data use and exceptional instruction are two critical factors in advancing student growth and achievement.

How a district’s focus on data is advancing student growth

Post-pandemic, accelerated growth and exceptional instruction are two critical factors in advancing student achievement

Key points:

How can district leaders and educators support student growth and effectively use data, in real time, to truly inform instruction and ensure high achievement?

Tracking student growth is particularly critical now, as the country inches further away from COVID but is still tied to the pandemic’s impact by lingering learning loss and equity gaps.

School District 81 in Schiller Park, a suburb of Chicago, is consistently one of the highest performing districts. In fact, the district’s student growth strategies are analyzed in-depth in a paper from NWEA. The district uses NWEA’s MAP Growth, part of NWEA’s Growth Activation Solution, to measure achievement and growth in K–12 math, reading, language usage, and science. Teachers use MAP data and its accurate, actionable evidence to inform instructional strategies regardless of how far students are above or below grade level. 

A former teacher, principal, and now in her 12th year as superintendent, Dr. Kim Boryszewski, Superintendent of Schools for Schiller Park, had a keen awareness of where the district needed to focus regarding student achievement, instruction, and guiding and building instructional leaders.

“Early on, I knew we had to take a closer look at the MAP Growth tool and how we used that data to inform our instruction,” she said. Instead of giving a fall assessment, using data to inform instruction, and testing again in the spring to see if those interventions worked, Dr. Boryszewski decided to incorporate a third, mid-year assessment to ensure instructional changes and interventions based on data were actually making a different for students.

Critical to the success of that third assessment is educators’ ability to access, interpret, and act on the data they receive.

“A lot of us are given assessment tools, but we don’t teach our teachers and principals what they’re supposed to do with the information. You’re taking an incredible amount of time to administer this assessment, and then you don’t do anything with the data,” she said. “MAP is definitely a unique assessment, too—not only do you have the assessment, which adapts as students answer questions to give you a good snapshot of their instructional level, but then it gives you valuable information on what students need. I think that’s where a lot of districts fall off—by not explaining what you can do with that information and how you can use it to guide instruction.”

As in all districts, educators in Schiller Park are grappling with a significant number of achievement gaps post-pandemic. The MAP Growth tool has helped district leaders identify where those gaps are and where students need help. But it also helps identify those students who are performing above grade level, who could benefit from differentiation to help them reach their potential.

“Not all kids are reading on grade level, so there has to be a tremendous amount of differentiation that goes on throughout a school day, in their content areas, to meet them where they are. A lot of times, the kids who are functioning above grade level miss out on opportunities to grow as much as they can, because they need something so unique to meet their growth targets,” Dr. Boryszewski said.

Data use remains central to the district’s mission to help all students reach their academic potential and thrive within their classrooms, schools, and in the district as a whole.

Unique in the district’s data use is how students are involved in discussions around their own data, their own academic growth, and their own MAP learning targets.

“You are what you talk about. We talk a lot with students about their MAP data. I meet with the building principals after each testing, we look at school and district data, and we talk about areas of improvements and success,” Dr. Boryszewski said.

These discussions trickle down through the district when principals talk about the same data points and goals with their teaching staff, and teachers, in turn, have discussions with their students.

“Students feel ownership in meeting their grade targets. We’re big advocates of students self-empowering—collaboration and innovation are expected,” she said. “They’re working across grade level with flex groups. We’re constantly pivoting and making changes in real time to ensure students are getting what they need. We all did our best [during the pandemic], but let’s be honest—we all have some work to do.”

Teachers in Schiller Park receive MAP Growth coaching and see it modeled regularly. They also receive strategies and tools to make it as easy as possible for them to use MAP Growth data to inform their instruction for all students.

“We really need to be thoughtful and use our resources in a way that’s meaningful. I really think we’re doing that here every day. Our teachers work hard—there’s lots of thought, planning, and differentiation. We have outstanding instructional coaches.

“I think the most important work is done by our teachers and they do an outstanding job of rising to the occasion and really being student-centered educators. We ask a lot of them, they work hard here, and we’re so proud,” Dr. Boryszewski said.

“What’s your secret to success?” It’s a question Dr. Boryszewski hears more than a little.

“People ask what we’re doing,” she said. The answer is simple: We’re using our data.”

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Laura Ascione

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