Using Data to Drive District Success

Using Data to Drive District Success

The best way to get your team behind a big goal

“Year-end tests are autopsies, not assessments: they explain what went wrong after it is too late to change course.” — Leveraging Leadership

It’s been a couple years since I first read Leveraging Leadership by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, the renowned district leader and researcher, but those words have always stuck with me.

Looking back, my time as a teacher was really the tale of two different careers — one in which I hoped my kids were learning and one in which I knew my kids were learning because I had the data to prove it.

When I first started teaching literacy, I worked at a school that didn’t provide a framework for collecting actionable student data during the year. Being the novice teacher that I was, I didn’t have a way to identify what my students could or could not do. As a result, I was pretty clueless about how to help my students, many of whom were reading several years below grade level. The lessons I taught my kids didn’t always match their needs, and the reading conferences I had with students lacked direction. To this day, I couldn’t really tell you how much progress my students made during those first few years. The only data point I had was from the end-of-year statewide test in which very few of my students showed proficiency.

“Untitled” by Glenn Carstens-Peters is licensed under CCO

Learning how to harness the power of data put my teaching career on a different trajectory. Through interim and formative assessments delivered throughout the year, I came to understand students’ exact strengths and weaknesses in time to do something about them. Armed with this vital information, I was able to identify trends and modify my pedagogy to address the gaps I saw. For example, I implemented a chunking strategy to help students recognize the main idea in a passage, a trend that I immediately recognized. Working with smaller chunks, students were able to jot notes in the margin to help them synthesize information. I also used a note-taking strategy to help students identify the author’s purpose in a text, which was another area of weakness. Students began to underline words that showed how the author felt about the topic. In the end, the growth I saw was pretty staggering. Kids who started the year reading several grades below their peers made huge strides. Not all of them were proficient, but I knew they had grown significantly because I measured their progress more than once a year.

Now, as the Director of School Partnerships at CommonLit, I work with school leaders to help them make a plan to get the most out of CommonLit. One of the reasons that I’m so excited about the potential of CommonLit is that we have taken our experiences as data-driven teachers and created a product that makes it increasingly easy for teachers, schools, and districts to track all of their students’ reading growth throughout the school year. We often begin our work with districts by curating and creating resources that fit seamlessly within their curriculum. Then, we work alongside districts to customize the types of training that they need to successfully implement these newly created curricular resources. Then, with this targeted curriculum and training in place, our district partners are ready to measure the growth their students are making.

Learning how to harness the power of data put my teaching career on a different trajectory.

I wish that CommonLit had been available while I was still teaching, especially during my first few years in the classroom, when I lacked a framework for using data to make instructional decisions. The overall progress dashboard would have helped me recognize trends at the macro level. For example, it would have guided my planning by helping me determine whether I should focus on literary or informational texts; implement a mini lesson on a particular type of multiple-choice question; or conduct a writing workshop to help students improve their short-answer responses. It could have also helped me see which students needed extra support, a positive phone call home, and/or tutoring.

Sample data from CommonLit’s Assignment Report page (left) and Student Progress page (right)

Hundreds of thousands of CommonLit teachers and students took advantage of this amazing free tool last school year. We took that feedback and used it to make a plan to support the work at the school and district level. We’re teaming up with school districts that want to get the most out of CommonLit and help students make measurable growth.

Here’s a story of one district that I’ve had the pleasure of working with so far, Brick Township, in New Jersey:

With an eye towards the future and not leaving success to chance, Jayne VanNosdall, the English Supervisor for Brick Township, has made some bold decisions. For this upcoming school year, students in Brick Township will take a common assessment created by CommonLit at the beginning and end of each semester. Since all of CommonLit’s lessons include rigorous grade-level texts and standard-aligned questions that mirror end-of-year statewide assessments, Jayne and her team will get a very early indication of how students would likely perform on those critical end-of-year assessments. Jayne is even working with CommonLit’s team to have these assessments target the standards that were most challenging for her students on the previous year’s PARCC assessment.

For Jayne and her team, she’s planning to dig into this benchmark data and determine which students are the most advanced and which students have the most growth to make. Her team will also be able to identify the genres and standards where students need the most practice. After identifying these strengths and weaknesses, teachers and instructional leaders will be able to craft a flexible plan to actually remediate the specific areas where students are showing weakness.

While this is a great start, this is really where the work just begins. Throughout the school year, Jayne and her team will be able to closely monitor the reading growth of students by analyzing formative assessments taken on CommonLit.org. She’ll be able to look at a customized district dashboard that provides information on how each school, grade, and student is performing. In addition to that, she’ll be able to track student progress by state standard and genre. This information will allow Jayne and her team to determine which skills need to be retaught, which students are in need of increased support, and which students should be given even more rigorous work.

Sample data from CommonLit’s District Data Dashboard

Armed with these powerful tools to constantly monitor student growth, Jayne and her team will help ensure that teachers feel supported and empowered to take the steps needed to address student needs before the end-of-year state test. As a former teacher, I recognize the value of data to help teachers hone their pedagogy and focus their instruction in order to make the work with students meaningful.

If you’re interested in learning more about school partnerships, feel free to reach out to me directly at rob@commonlit.org.