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Monday, October 15, 2012

No shortage of school data; it’s just critical how schools can dissect it

In the conversations I’ve had in recent weeks with school districts across the country about using data to improve classroom performance, I keep coming back to something an administrator in Missouri said to me.

 “There’s no point in collecting data if you don’t have it available for teachers to use,” said Michelle Kratofil, director of curriculum, assessment and staff development for the Smithville R-2 District outside Kansas City. “We’ve had some great data in the past, but to get it out to teachers has required me to bring it to them and explain it to them or show them how they can filter through a spread sheet.”

Last month’s announcement that statewide Kansas assessment scores dropped for the first time in more than 11 years set off alarm bells in many directions, and state education officials said they are analyzing data now to look for trends.

There’s never any shortage of data available for school districts, but the key, as Michelle said, will be what strategies and adjustments will come from that analysis to make the biggest impact in the classroom for each individual student.

I was also talking recently with Stephanie True, the curriculum, assessment and professional development coordinator of the Affton School District in Missouri. She gave me a great example of one way teachers can use data in the classroom. District administrators noticed a trend -- a dip in assessment scores from fifth to sixth grade. So at the beginning of the year they had teachers look closely at how students scored in past years.

"The kids come in and say 'I didn't learn that. I didn't know that,'" Stephanie said. "And (the teachers) have proof right there at their fingertips. 'No look, look how well you did last year. We can hold you to higher expectations.'"

School performance in every state is a huge topic, and it’s a fascinating area to work in. After several years of boosts in scores, it’s going to get tougher and tougher for schools to show improvement. That's why it's more critical for schools to get their vast amounts of data into formats they can easily work with.