By Susan Riddell
For Tonya Isaacs, the numbers never end, and they never lie.
Isaacs, an instructional supervisor in the Estill County school district, is one of many district personnel tasked with constant data analysis, with the intent of having data-driven instruction and creating rich conversations about how to improve learning for students.
“As a district, we are focused on rigor in the classroom,” Isaacs said. “By teachers seeing the important formative data, they can see what they don’t need to reteach, they can see how to move on to the next thing to teach and what’s the best way to teach it.”
Estill County school administrators have been processing and analyzing data as fervently as possible for several years now, and the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has taken notice of their efforts.
Susan Allred, interim associate commissioner for Office of Next-Generation Schools and Districts, congratulated the district at a recent Kentucky Board of Education meeting, specifically mentioning the work done by Estill County High School, a Tier III persistently low-achieving (PLA) school. Three years ago, Estill County High started receiving federal money for interventions, and the school had to provide reports each semester to show progress.
The reports show the school has much to celebrate. Since being named a PLA school, Estill County High reduced its number of 9th-grade failing students and doubled the number of students who are college- and career-ready.
“They focused on data in the Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) early and interventions early and often,” Allred said.
“That data never ends,” Isaacs added. “Honestly, the high school is really the place where data takes over with end-of-course (EOC), ACT and college- and career-ready (CCR) measures. And Principal (Blain) Click really has things going well over there.”
Allred said that districts really benefit when they embrace the numbers that assessment data offer.
“In Kentucky, as a whole, the schools and districts that are making the most progress use data to drive the improvements and have processes to review the data,” Allred said.
For Estill County schools, that means a variety of opportunities to collect and review data aside from the high school level.
One of Isaacs’ main outlets for data review is quality assurance meetings, where teachers discuss recent formative assessments with the school principal and curriculum coach.
“This gives a teacher a chance to let us know that maybe that day of testing was a bad day for students,” Isaacs said. “This assessment isn’t a ‘got-you’ to teachers. It helps us see across the goals to where are students at based on how they are performing.”
One of the teachers who participated in a recent middle school quality assurance meeting was Donald Norton, a 7th-grade mathematics teacher at Estill County Middle School. Norton said when he participates in meetings to analyze data, he always takes the approach of asking what the data is telling him. He looks for patterns within the data for his classroom and across his grade level, keeping an eye out for what students are getting and what needs to be retaught.
“We always start the meetings with the positives,” Norton said. “Data should always have an impact on any effective teacher. Whether or not the data is what you want or expect to see from your students, it is my job to take ownership of my students’ data. That way I can ensure that their educational needs are being met.”
For example, when data indicated some students were missing a particular learning target on the district’s Continuous Instructional Assessment (CIA), a quarterly formative assessment given to students in grades 3-8, Norton started giving those students focused instruction in that area Sometimes he delivered that instruction, and other times he utilized virtual instructors (from the Kahn Academy or Discovery Education, for example).
“These tutorials are only about three to six minutes long,” Norton said.
After students watch the tutorial, they answer warm-up questions and complete a practice worksheet of 10 higher-level thinking questions. Once those are correctly completed, students are given a ‘prove-it’ worksheet containing three short-answer questions written at the same cognitive level as the CIA.
“Students must show clear understanding of the content before moving on,” he said.
Kristy Floyd is a 4th-grade teacher at West Irvine Elementary School. She said she uses data from the CIA to determine what she didn’t teach to mastery in her classroom.
“Each question is labeled with the specific learning target and standard,” Floyd said. “Since we disaggregate the data for all the CIAs, it lets me see exactly which of my students don’t understand a concept.”
She implements this into her class time during PowerTime, a 30-minute morning segment used for review, intervention or extended learning.
Floyd said a CIA is aligned across the district.
“If our students understood a concept very well and scored high, we could give tips to the other elementary school where scores may have suffered and vice versa,” she said. “I think this is a great collaborative effort that shows how Estill County feels about its students.”