“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
“Schools play important roles in helping drive the nation’s economic engine, serving as a repository of knowledge, and providing a ladder of success for citizens.”
David Warren, president, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
“Data! Data! Data! I can’t make bricks without clay!”
Sherlock Holmes points out that one can’t make valid conclusions without data in the same way one can’t build solid bricks without clay. In the field of education, there is a wealth of data and the challenge is to transition from just data to using evidence for decision-making.
Using Data and Evidence to Improve Learning
A colleague, Steve Benjamin, related the following joke and how it correlates to schools analyzing data:
A gentleman exited a restaurant late at night, and as he walked toward his vehicle, he saw a fellow hunched over beneath a street lamp, obviously searching for something.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Why, yeah, I’m looking for my keys.”
They searched together for a while without luck.
“Where did you drop your keys?” the Good Samaritan asked.
“Over there in the alley,” he replied.
“Then why are we looking here beneath this lamp?”
“The light’s better,” he said.
He emphasizes that when making decisions based on data, many educators are searching in the wrong places. It is a fallacy to examine data without asking if the data is worth being reviewed.
Our staff is intentional in using pertinent data based on evidence. For example, studies have identified phonics and letter knowledge as the two most valid school-entry predictors of how well students will learn to read during their first two years in school. Teachers and administrators periodically review student reading performance based on formal and informal assessments to determine how each student is progressing when a student is struggling with skills, such as phonics and letter knowledge. The staff provides specific interventions to improve the student’s skills. Further interventions are modified or new ones implemented depending upon progress being made. Consequently, students do not “fall between the cracks” with using this personalized and data-driven strategy. This same approach also is used in math.
Analyzing the data from a variety of assessments provides information to answer questions, such as:
- Which students have improved and why did they improve?
- Are high performing students continuing to improve? If not, how do we provide more challenging learning opportunities?
- Which students have not improved, and what changes are needed to improve learning?
- What strategies have yielded student progress and could be used for other students who are struggling
Answering the questions is critical to effectively using evidence and data for improvement.
2014 ISAT Results
In late October, the 2014 Illinois Standards Achievement Testing (ISAT) results were released and we are celebrating how well our students did. A front page article in the October 31, 2014 Daily Herald lists results for two selected grades—3 and 8—in DuPage County. Benjamin School District 25 students scored in the top three districts in grade 3 reading and math and in the top three districts for math growth district wide. We realize that ISAT scores are just one of the measures of high performing schools and student success.
Changes in State Tests
Unfortunately, comparing previous year’s ISAT results is not possible since the new Illinois Learning Standards were only included in 20 percent of the 2013 ISAT while 100 percent of the standards were included in the more rigorous 2014 ISAT. In the spring of 2015 the new Partnership of Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which reflects the new state standards, will be administered to students in grades 3-8. Our students will take the state assessments online in March for the Performance Based Assessment and in early May for the End of Year Assessment. These assessments will be more difficult because students’ acquisition of knowledge and application of the knowledge will be tested. For example, students will use critical thinking skills and solve real problems as well as explain how they solved them.
Using Data to Improve Other Aspects of the School District
We collect and analyze other data which is included in the 2013-2014 District Scorecard Report found in this newsletter. Increasing communication and ensuring organizational efficiency and fiscal stability are two other areas that are the focus of the district. Please contact me if you have any questions or suggestions regarding this annual report.
Philip M. Ehrhardt, Ed.D.