A Data-Driven Approach to Assessment

A superintendent shares how his district meets requirements and empowers students.

GUEST COLUMN | by Ken Weaver

Districts across the U.S. know the familiar pressure of state assessments. This pressure only intensifies when punitive measures result from assessment scores.

Like all districts in Michigan, Oxford Community Schools is awaiting the enforcement of the Read by Grade Three Law. Read by Grade Three was implemented as a result of less-than-proficient results on the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP). Under the new law, students are required to be proficient readers by the end of third grade, or risk being held back.

Children entering third grade for the 2019-20 school year will be the first group affected by the new law. To ensure that our teachers and students are prepared, Oxford Community Schools embraced a data-driven approach to assessment. This strategy serves two purposes: to meet the needs of our students, and to help educators collaborate.

‘Instead of having our educators spend time deciphering complex spreadsheets and crunching numbers, we’ve harnessed the power of an efficient data platform to ease the process and put data to work.’

We found that when used together, data and a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) are the secret ingredients to creating impactful assessments that drive student growth.

Data-driven compliance benefits the school, and the student

MTSS is defined as the practice of providing high-quality instruction and interventions that are matched to student needs. For MTSS to work, a process must be in place to document student progress and offer appropriate supports.

To support our district’s MTSS initiative, we implemented Illuminate Education, a platform that manages student data and assessments, and gives insights into student progress. With the right data, we are able to get a complete picture of every student’s strengths and weaknesses, and understand all of the variables that contribute to performance.

For a data-driven approach to assessment to work, teachers and administrators must be on board. Without proper training and continuous support, educators aren’t likely to feel compelled or confident when using data.

Part of my role is to make sure we have resources in place to assist teachers and administrators in evaluating data and incorporating it into curriculum and assessment. Our district has embraced data as a tool and embedded its importance into our culture. Data is something that our faculty wants to use, because it makes education more efficient and effective.                          

As a result of this mindset, teachers, principals, reading specialists and literary coaches are using data to monitor student progress, and offer individualized support to those that need it.

Visualization leads to future success

To help students reach reading proficiency prior to the third-grade deadline, those who are at-risk are given an Individual Reading Improvement Plan (IRIP). We include current and historical data from state and interim reading assessments on these plans, making it easier to collaborate internally, and also to update families on student progress.

Our MTSS helps to identify where students are at in their academic journeys, and to offer the right mix of resources in the moment. We can also use data trends to predict future student needs.

Instead of having our educators spend time deciphering complex spreadsheets and crunching numbers, we’ve harnessed the power of an efficient data platform to ease the process and put data to work.

The benefit of using student data to provide support is clear. In 2018, our third-grade students stood 4.8 percent above the state average on the M-STEP, and we were 12.9 percent above the state average in 2019. We’re putting our best foot forward to make sure that every student has an opportunity for success.

At Oxford Community Schools, educators want students to do well because they’re taught well, and that means finding the right mix of methods and supports for each student. There isn’t—and will never be—a one-size-fits-all approach to supporting students.

Instead, having an organized system in place that’s supported by data, the commitment of teachers, and effective assessments—will lead to success. As technology continues to advance and educational standards evolve, it’s our responsibility to ensure that assessments reflect that.

Ken Weaver is Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at Oxford Community Schools in Oxford, Michigan. Write to: ken.weaver@oxfordschools.org


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