Turn Data Into Action
When test scores slipped at Kennett (PA) Consolidated School District, leaders knew they needed more than good data collection to turn things around. Making stats mean something to teachers was the key to success.
Raising test scores: Fifth graders work with teacher Mary Jane Morris at Mary D. Lang Elementary.
Kennett (PA) Consolidated School District (KCSD) had grown accustomed to its stats: 70 percent of its student population maintained a "proficient" level, while the remaining 30 percent worked hard but struggled to meet academic standards. Until recently, those numbers allowed KCSD to enjoy its status as a high-performing district. Now, a series of demographic changes and a rise in mobility rates are causing test scores to drop.
The largely agricultural community, located in the southeast corner of Pennsylvania and composed mainly of mushroom farms, is fast becoming home to more and more Hispanic families. Many of them do not speak English as their first language. As a result, the percentage of English language learners (ELLs) in the district is growing.
When two of the five schools in KCSD failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) two years ago, Superintendent Rudy Karkosak took that as a sign for change. "There's no question that our students were working hard, but they just weren't proficient in the language," says Karkosak. He adds, "We're not looking at this situation and saying, How can we deal with this new demographic? Instead we're saying, How can we help each of these individuals?"
The Search for a Solution
To start, Karkosak consulted two of the district's school improvement teams, one from Kennett Square Middle School and the other from Mary D. Lang Elementary School, to investigate a variety of Comprehensive Reform Solution programs to help the district raise test scores, such as America's Choice. Although they liked several of these programs, according to middle school Principal John Carr, the staff wanted to "fix themselves."
The district also wanted a solution to work in conjunction with its data warehouse. After spending years building its own, the district contracted with TetraData last year to provide the finishing touches and upkeep. Teachers and administrators now had access to ample demographic and achievement data, but a major challenge remained: what to do with the information.
Staff members were willing to use data, but they didn't know how. Says Carr, "We would give them these big binders, and they'd say, ‘Tell us what to do, and we'll do it. Tell me how to translate these numbers into action in my classroom, and I'll do it.'"
Karkosak needed and wanted to help his staff. "I have a problem with giving too many tests," he says. "It takes instructional time away from the students. So if you are going to test, you need to gain information you can use." To train his staff, he called for outside assistance.
Find Out What You Need Before You Act
Karkosak turned to Pearson Achievement Solution's DataFlow, a systematic professional development solution that focuses on the use of data to measure effective instruction. With DataFlow, teachers and administrators identify their problems and devise their own solutions. "It weaves into the operation of the district," Carr says, so that the district maintains ownership over its reform.
But then they found something they didn't expect. After conducting an item analysis of students' results on the PSAA, Pennsylvania's high-stakes test, they discovered that all students were struggling with open-ended questions. "This quickly identified where the whole staff could take action," said Geier.
By the end of the five days, each team had devised a school improvement plan, which included five measurable goals and a timetable for achieving them. According to Cathy Robine, principal of Lang Elementary, monitoring those five goals became the basis of every faculty meeting. "We would do a check and ask, Where are we on these goals? When you write a school improvement plan, you really have to live it, or else it just becomes the paper on which you wrote it."
Get Info Into the Classroom
With action plans in hand, the teams sought ways to disseminate them. They gave PowerPoint presentations to the school board and to each of the schools' faculties. While those went well, team members realized that to affect instruction on the classroom level, they would have to work more closely with teachers to train them to interpret their own students' data.
Around this time, the state mandated the implementation of a benchmark assessment called Foresight, to be given four times a year. The timeliness of this test was serendipitous, says Geier. Each school's team was just beginning to educate their staffs about how to use data to inform instruction. Now, with Foresight, teachers could examine student-level data four times a year instead of once.
At Lang, Principal Robine created bimonthly, grade-level meetings to identify trends across grade levels and classrooms as well as individual students' strengths and weaknesses. According to Robine, "keeping the data in front of teachers" is key. "All the subjectivity went away. We looked at all students," she says. "If we had a student who was proficient, we wanted to move them [ahead] too."
As the PSAA neared, teams from both schools compiled lists of students who were either slightly above or just below the passing line. They questioned the instruction and resources that each student on the list was receiving to ensure each was getting the right support. At the elementary school especially, administrators knew every student's academic standing so well that when it came time to take the test, they felt they could predict how well each would fare.
"That's the instructional leader piece," says Robine, "to be able to talk about kids like this, to really know kids' strengths and weaknesses, and what we need to do and are doing to meet their needs. That's the best part."
Keeping Up the Good Work
After students were prepared for the test, the work was far from over. Teams had to determine which demographic and achievement data were appropriate to use when developing a baseline for the upcoming year and which were important for them to maintain over time. After an analysis, they distributed a two-page report for each grade level to teachers at the beginning of this school year.
Over the summer, KCSD extended the DataFlow Solution to the three remaining schools in the district. Teams of administrators and teachers from those schools attended the five-day Data Institute, while the two pilot schools continued to analyze incoming data and develop goals and action plans.
Test Scores Go Up
Kennett Middle School and Lang Elementary are still struggling to reach AYP, but PSAA preliminary results show significant gains in test scores. At Kennett, students who read at a proficient level improved scores by nearly 10 percent. And at Lang, fifth graders scored highest in the district in writing, a great accomplishment, especially for its ELL students.