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Posted September 12, 2017

Grant's Geeking out on Data, and It’s Paying Off

Data-driven instruction has proven to be effective at the middle school where they saw a two-grade improvement this year.

GMS Principal Paul Roney encourages students to do their best on the PARCC test.

After two years of being labeled a failing school, Grant just received a C from the state Public Education Department. More importantly, according to Principal Paul Roney and Assistant Principal Kelly Boersma, the school has changed the life trajectory of many of last year’s eighth graders who are now in high school on track to graduate.

It all began with an instructional audit a year before these students were even in middle school. Until then, Grant administrators and teachers really hadn’t taken a close look at statistics representing test scores, demographics, attendance rates and the like.

“We saw data as numbers. We weren’t really using it to make instructional decisions,” Roney recalled.

After the audit, the school formed a data team and, under the guidance of Beata Thorstensen with the APS Office of Accountability and Reporting, they first learned how to read and analyze data, and then worked with teachers on changing instructional practices accordingly.

It took a change of attitude, too. Roney described it as a culture shift that included more teamwork, more consistency and a willingness to ask for help and listen to feedback.

Through department and grade-level Professional Learning Communities and the school’s Instructional Council, problems of practice were identified and then strategies for addressing those problems were developed and put into place.

For example, the data showed that students across the board were struggling with writing, so they began taking regular writing assessments during their advisory periods using PARCC released items for writing prompts. Teachers then came together to analyze the results.

“These were Aha moments,” said Boersma. “We found out that many of our students didn’t even understand the prompt, they didn’t know how to cite evidence, they lacked academic vocabulary.”

Adjustments were made, and the results improved.

“You have to look at your data. You can’t resist,” Roney said. “You have to know where you are so you can figure out where you’re going. And you need to do this as a team.”

Grant continues to make instructional changes based on data analysis. This year, for example, teachers are coming up with their own problems of practice and asking their peers to observe classrooms and offer suggestions. They also adjusted the school bell schedule so that all students have an extra 90 minutes a week to work on basic math and reading skills, something the data showed was needed.

In addition, the school has hosted professional development opportunities to help staff better understand poverty, trauma and other issues their students are facing.

And they’ve taken an honest approach with students, talking about the role each individual plays in improving their own test scores, attendance rates, proficiency rates and more.

By understanding and analyzing data, Grant Middle School has been able to address the needs of its students. If that sounds a little nerdy, that’s just fine with the GMS team because it’s working.