Friday, June 24, 2011

Data Driven?

Last night, when I arrived home and checked the computer for updates, I found that data related to some of our year's efforts had been reported.  The data is based on standards we strive for during the year.  I've worked with these standards for years and know them well.  Collectively, teachers in my system have tried many, many strategies to teach the standards well using multiple instructional methods.  I analyzed the initial data carefully looking for areas where students had done well, and areas where students and teachers were still challenged. These were some of my initial findings.
  1. Overall, it appears that ELA intervention programs are working in my system.  Many at-risk readers and writers made significant progress.  We have a team that works closely with many of these students using a researched, responsive, regular program to "grow" their skills and knowledge.  Kudos to that group for tremendous work.
  2. There are still some students we have to think more deeply about.  They tend to be our most complex students.  Some of the strategies I'm wondering about with respect to these students include the following:
    • Social/Emotional Support:  Smaller homerooms for some to get the day off to a good start.  A mentor would lead that homeroom period to make sure students have snacks, appropriate clothing, completed homework, and time to talk and plan for the day ahead.  Some of these students need extra social/emotional support. We all know that if a child isn't ready emotionally to learn, then the learning is challenged.
    • Targeted Instruction:  More time for targeted, small group or individual instruction away from the busy, sometimes noisy, classroom atmosphere.  Regular, small group or individual targeted help with skilled instructors for challenging learning goals can make a big difference.
    • Double Dosing:  Rather than moving with the the large class group to a project block, perhaps students that struggle with essential skill development could move to a more targeted project block that teaches the project within the context of reading and/or math development. Again, it's essential that the leader of such a group is a skilled instructor.
    • Passion:  It's very important for challenged students to work within their arena of interests and passions; that's motivating and keeps the learning meaningful and fun.  It's essential to consider this as we try to meet their essential skill needs.
    • Time for Professional Collaboration:  This summer many teachers in our system are meeting to discuss RTI and how we can improve instruction for all students.  It's great that we have some valuable essential skill scores prior to this meeting.
    • Assistive Technology:  As I think about the idea of print disabilities, I wonder what technology can assist our most challenged students. It looks like blogging, online journals, books on iPods, and Lexia, tools currently in place, have helped.  How can we use these tools best, and what other tools are available to help our learners?
While I'm very excited about data based on solid academic standards, I recognize that this is one piece of the school puzzle.  I am a fan of streamlined, targeted testing that occurs a couple times a year for most students, and more, but not too often, targeted, individualized or small group testing for students that are challenging to teach in an effort to inform our instruction with respect to essential skill development.

I've written earlier about my vision for school change,  Restructuring Schools for Student Success, and with that in mind, I believe that testing/data fits into the essential skill section of that vision.  What do you think about data?  How does it inform your instruction?  Where does it fit into your school program?  What's the right ratio of data/testing to instruction/development?  I'm listening.