Successful schools use data to focus improvement efforts

Last week I had the privilege of attending the 21st Annual Model Schools Conference down in Washington, D.C. Put on by the International Center for Leadership in Education, this year’s conference provided teachers and educational leaders, including many from Maine, with practical ideas for increasing student achievement and ensuring college and career readiness in an age of declining resources and higher standards.

What I consistently heard in every session I attended was that successful schools are using data – like the kind publicly available in Maine DOE’s Data Warehouse – to identify target areas so their efforts can be focused. You know as does this Department that schools simply cannot tackle every challenge at once and expect success. Instead, by using data to determine where the greatest needs are, initiating interventions with concentrated and common purpose, and regularly checking for results and adjusting, outcomes for students will improve.

For Brockton High School, a model school from Massachusetts, the fact that 50 percent of their students didn’t speak English as their first language led them to double-down on literacy. The school embarked on a Literacy Initiative that had all teachers in all departments assume responsibility for literacy skills instruction in reading, writing, speaking and reasoning. Those skills were identified based on analysis of state assessment data and were posted on the wall and incorporated in the instruction in every classroom. The rule of “literacy for all – no exceptions” has led to the school outperforming 90 percent of others in that state and earned them national recognition in spite of poverty rates above 70 percent.

That “no exceptions, no excuses” ethos was a common theme at the conference. Consistently falling below AYP, students, staff and parents at Country Meadows Elementary School in Arizona had resigned themselves to failure being inevitable. But new leadership decided that would no longer be an option and a unified vision was established that all students can and will learn. With that in a mind and a data-driven, laser-like focus on instruction in professional development, team meetings and mentoring, in three years the school transformed its culture, instruction and organization. Discipline referrals have dropped by half, and achievement based on state tests has risen by double-digit amounts.

Turnaround stories like these were ones I heard often this spring on my Promising Practices Tour, and have been a focus, under the leadership of our Chief Academic Officer Rachelle Tome, of the Department’s work as well. As we get a chance to catch our breath over the summer, I encourage you to take some time to explore what is working here in Maine via our growing Center for Best Practice and in other states which share many of our same challenges and opportunities. Many of the Model Schools materials are available here on the conference website and I hope the celebratory daily morning assemblies that helped Owl Creek Elementary in Arkansas decrease tardiness and increase daily attendance or the Career Academy model that reengaged students in their school and future college and careers at Newark Valley Middle School in New York will inspire and inform your own innovation.


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