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Column: District 518 using data to improve student achievement


WORTHINGTON — Data has become ubiquitous in our society. It seems as if our every move is tracked, whether it is through our credit card purchases, a global positioning system in our cell phone or car or through simply writing checks to pay our bills. School system leaders are also discovering the power of data for promoting school improvement, and thus, student achievement. One superintendent stated, “We spend a lot of time on testing, but not much time on what to do with the test results.” How can the use of data improve student achievement?

0 Talk about it

Data-driven decision-making is about gathering data to understand if a school, or a school district, is meeting its purpose and vision. We must have a goal in order to make decisions that lead to improved student growth and achievement. In Worthington Public Schools our superintendent works side by side with administrators, teachers, parents and specifically with the department of school improvement to ensure all children are improving and achieving.

District 518’s mission statement of “Educational Excellence… for All Learners to be Successful Citizens in the Future” can be reached only when our entire school district, and thus all of our learners, are successful in obtaining a high-quality education and pursuing their personal goals as well as becoming productive citizens. Data provides quantifiable proof and a source for meaningful, ongoing dialogue within the community to intentionally assure that our mission statement is being fulfilled.

The use of data has changed. Initially data might have been collected because it was mandated by the state in order to secure funding. However, using data to aid in creating a sound “blueprint” with measurable objectives to continuously improve student learning is now much easier because of the ease of obtaining meaningful and relevant data. Information obtained can be specific enough to facilitate individual student instruction, or it can be generalizable and used to make broader decisions such as what course offerings should be made available for a particular cohort of students.

Data might be perceived as confusing or even intimidating, but if we use it as a logical tool to discover what we already know and use our present knowledge to generate student learning, data no longer seems daunting, but becomes an ally in pursuing student growth. Data can help:

* Measure student progress

* Make sure students who need supports receive them

* Measure program effectiveness

* Assess instructional effectiveness

* Guide curriculum development

* Allocate resources wisely

* Promote accountability

* Report to the community

* Meet state and federal reporting requirements

* Maintain educational focus

* Show trends in student learning

It is imperative that the data we use is valid and reliable. Validity is defined as the extent to which an instrument (or test) measures what it was intended to measure — or to paraphrase, validity is synonymous with accuracy. Reliability is defined as consistency. Appropriate questions must be asked after reviewing data.

Information gathered should subsequently be used to generate conversations about how to solve negative trends shown by it, or how to continue positive results manifested. Data is not a solution; again, it is a tool to facilitate the direction a school or district should take in bringing about the best possible scenario for successful student achievement. The next time you read data generated by Worthington Public Schools, you too can investigate and add to the conversation of how well our district is using data to achieve educational excellence for all.

Dr. Deborah Mitchell is coordinator of student education for District 518.