Thursday, July 7, 2011
Friday, June 24, 2011
One of the challenges of being in a large school district is being physically removed from the main administration building where most of the administrative systems reside and the administrative work is done. The IT contact person in my building has responsibility for managing any issues with individual laptops, One of the challenges of taking a course during the summer is having limited access to persons with knowledge of the inside workings of our district. So I will be writing this post from the perspective of the gentleman with whom I spoke regarding the survey of our SIS / CIA systems, Mr. Craig Dilks.
Craig appears to be the owner / manager of the data within our district or manages those who have that responsibility. As the district's Director of MIS, the tasks mentioned – managing the servers, insuring the data warehouse is clean, and running the reports – all fall under Craig's domain. I am aware of one mathematics teacher who requests certain reports from Craig in order to create some applications used in our school for creating an employee directory accessible to the staff within our building. Craig will run these as requested and return the information to Bill in a timely basis.
Bernhardt states that “not having someone who knows the entire system could spell disaster” (Bernhardt, p. 159) and Craig is that man in our district. As mentioned in my SIS / CIA post, Craig included personnel in many different capacities in defining requirements and implementation of the SIS systems, which is consistent with Bernhardt's assertion that “most districts have at least one IT person and someone with an education background working together to maintain their data warehouses” (Bernhardt, p. 159). User support for using the data warehouse is provided on an “as needed” basis. For example, when we implemented the online grading component of eSchoolplus this past school year, teachers were provided with electronic documentation, written documentation, voluntary small group training, and a “super user” contact person in our building to answer questions. Fortunately for me, the teacher who was the super user in our building was my next door neighbor, giving me an unfair advantage in learning to use this new piece of software!
Bernhardt, V.L. (2008). Translating data into information to improve teaching and learning. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education, Inc.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
I agree with Diana that finding a publication relevant to this topic has been difficult. But, I believe I found a good article related to mathematics.
William Tate's publication “Access and Opportunities to Learn are Not Accidents” (Tate) discusses eliminating the achievement gap in mathematics for African American and Latino / Hispanic and female students. Because of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) both state- and national-level mathematics standards have been established. Tate contends that there are research-based strategies which can be used to improve both the teaching and learning of mathematics. Stated briefly, Tate says that “designing appropriate solutions (to schools' mathematics problem) will require creativity, hard choices, performance tests, iterative action, and evaluation.” (Tate, p. 6)
The achievement gap for various ethnic groups has been magnified by the fact that school-age population became more diverse between 1980 and 1990 (Tate, p. 7). Tate states that “one reason many schools lack the insight to make appropriate instructional changes is related to how they organize and analyze data” (Tate, p. 9). Two different studies – the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS) of 1988 – showed similar trends. The NAEP study showed improvement in mathematics achievement for all ethnic groups from 1973-1999, but no group performing on average at the highest performance level. The NELS study of over 10,000 students in nearly 800 high schools nationwide showed that African Americans, Hispanics, and Whites made statistically significant gains in mathematics achievement and that the gains made by African American and Hispanic students were larger than those of white students (Tate, p. 12).
With the problem defined, Tate explains potential solutions which he terms as “Opportunity to Learn” (OTL) factors: time, quality, and design. Tate states that “two of the most powerful predictors of school mathematics achievement … have been (a) increased time on task in high-level mathematics and (b) the number of courses taken in mathematics” (Tate, p. 16). “Quality” corresponds to the quality of professional development, quality of curriculum, and quality of instruction. With regards to quality of curriculum, Tate states that “each school should design an academic plan based on local mathematics standards and an associated accountability structure” (Tate, p. 30).
Tate indicates that part of quality education is having educators who are eager to listen to each other and students, who are open to a variety of educational solutions, and are never content with just trial and error methods. These are the types of teachers and instructional leaders who can engineer changes in mathematics education.
Tate VI, W. (2005). Access and opportunities to learn are not accidents: Engineering mathematical progress in your school. Greensboro, NC: Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Monday, June 20, 2011
Positive Aspects of Using Data
It is an interesting process to sit back and take a bird's eye view at the processes that are being done in my school district with respect to collection and use of that data within the school and classroom. There are many positive aspects of using data to drive school wide decisions. I will speak specifically about the Reading High Mathematics Department, which is where I teach. We have over twenty mathematics teachers in the high school, so it is good to take a look at our specific group.
From a school wide perspective, it is beneficial to have data for all students in the school for a number of reasons. First, if there is a desire to group students with higher or lower competencies, this type of schoolwide data can help to group students appropriately. Second, it is easy to spot trends – either good or bad – which may be happening throughout the entire student population. This can give the school and teachers the ability to focus and/or refocus the curriculum accordingly.
Regarding individual students, it is helpful to look at the data and to help the students see, for example, how close they may be to being “Proficient” or “Advanced” in certain categories. For example, when our students take the 4Sight exams each quarter, their math teachers get their results. So, besides reviewing the exam questions in whole to determine the trends and look at which areas need further review, we can also look at the results with individual students and help them raise their scores to Proficient or Advanced.
Technological and Cultural Challenges at Reading School District
One thing that I believe would be helpful would be to have regular reports sent by email to teachers regarding the students within their classes. The challenges that I see is that I am not 100% certain that reports can be grouped by individual classes at the current time. So when the students take exams, it is a challenging logistical effort to sort the tests by individual teacher. I believe that some of the aspects of the technology are in place, but am not 100% sure that it is ready for “prime time” use.
Integrating Data Driven Decisions in the Mathematics Classroom
Once the correct tools are in place, the data can be used in my classroom to focus on the areas where most of the students are struggling. If my students are doing well on Order of Operations but not doing well on Work and Rate Problems, I can focus my classroom lessons appropriately. If individual students are struggling in specific areas, I can customize Study Island lessons which will help them to raise their level of proficiency.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
I spent a fair bit of time on the Reading School District website and did not find any information regarding the school's vision / mission statements. I was quickly able to find vision / mission statements on three other public school districts within my county, so I am sad that this information is not readily available on my school's website. With that said, I will do my best to comment on how the district supports a culture of data.
In the area of instruction, our school is in the process of implementing Learning Focused Solutions over a period of three years (“Learning Focused”). Learning Focused provides “practical and innovative solutions and products with an emphasis on advanced student learning, instructional practices, and leadership skills”. What this means in practical terms is that all of the teachers in my school have received training on activating strategies, essential questions, graphic organizers, student learning maps, and summarizing strategies. As a relatively new teacher, this process has been overwhelming at times. But the fact that these solutions are being implemented over the course of time has been very helpful to me.
As an example, let me expand about Essential Questions. An “essential question” is a question that students may not know at the beginning of a class period, but should know by the end of the class period. A mathematics example is “How do I solve a quadratic equation using the quadratic formula?” In order to answer this question, a student must be able to identify a quadratic equation, put the equation in standard form, identify the “a, b, and c” variables, substitute these values into the quadratic formula, and perform the math necessary to solve the quadratic equation. The essential question presumes some prior knowledge on the students' part – such as being able to identify a quadratic equation. The idea of an essential question is to keep the students – and teacher – focused on the day's objective. At the end of the lesson, students should have the ability to answer the day's essential question.
In the area of assessment, our school conducts 4Sight tests in Reading and Math each quarter of the year. These tests are scored and the results provided to the subject area teachers in order to give their students feedback on their progress with relation to proficiency. As a teacher, I have the ability to review the test questions with my students and help them to improve their scores throughout the year. It is helpful for students to see their own progress throughout the year as well.
In terms of environment, there is a fair bit of data available for helping our students to improve. The most visible example is the Study Island data used in preparation for PSSA testing. The weekly PSSA assignments are compiled and analyzed by administrative staff in order to provide focused instruction in the weeks immediately prior to PSSA testing. This strategy has been successful in the English Department and was implemented for the first time in the Math Department in the 2010-11 school year.
In terms of data use, I know that there is a lot of data available about my students in different places – eSchoolplus and Performance Tracker – but it is only used sporadically to help analyze our students. I can certainly look at a student's personal information and see how he/she is performing in all classes. I can also see other personal contact information and medical / special needs alerts. But as far as having focused, coherent data which will help me to raise that student's level of knowledge in Mathematics, the 4Sight information mentioned earlier is the best data that I have at my disposal.
Learning Focused. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.learningfocused.com
There are many considerations to be made when researching and choosing a data warehouse solution for an organization. To complete a detailed needs analysis would take a number of days and meetings with key personnel. With that said, it is difficult to add much to the information detailed by Bernhardt's book (Bernhardt, pp. 57-72). I will be addressing these needs in a more generic way, since Reading School District already has a data warehouse in place.
As I thought through the process and choices of key committee members, I came up with a similar list to Bernhardt: IT staff, project manager, principals, vice principals, other administrators, teachers, finance office personnel, and school board members. The roles of the members vary depending on the phase of the project, which would be laid out by the project manager. Initially, the project team should meet and determine the priorities for choosing a system – eg, speed of implementation, maximizing system features, bottom line cost, etc. Timing and cost are most often considerations, as it makes sense for systems to be installed at logical timeframes – the beginning of a school year, the beginning of a financial fiscal year, etc. Cost is always a consideration, and much more so in the current economic climate.
The scope of the data warehouse will vary from school to school and will be based on the priorities of the school with regards to its mission and vision. Coming to a common agreement on the purposes, users, uses, and data requirements is important and putting these in writing is also important for project direction and for future reflection on the system which has been implemented. These requirements should continually be in front of the project team to ensure that they go in the right direction and do not attempt to implement features not in the original project scope.
Determining data readiness entails all of the things to which Bernhardt refers – evaluation of the current network, currently existing data, and the amount of money available for a new system. The network is the underlying foundation of any successful software solution. An organization will not want to lose any current data and implementation of a new system will likely involve mapping / converting current data to a new solution. And, ultimately, financial concerns will constrain the scope of any software solution. One thing to keep in mind regarding software costs is that they can be negotiable. A simple example comes to mind – tax preparation software is much more valuable on April 1st than it is on April 16th, at which time one would be hard pressed to find anyone willing to pay $29 for tax preparation software!
Once the network groundwork has been laid, identifying the personnel available to do the work is important. Notice that all of this groundwork – counting the cost both in terms of dollars spent on software and personnel – is done before even approaching a vendor. An organization that invests due diligence in this part of the software selection process is well on its way to implementation of a successful solution for all constituents involved.
Bernhardt, V.L. (2008). Translating data into information to improve teaching and learning. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education, Inc.