For the past several years, California has been taking aim at improved student achievement in its public schools as the state's singular educational priority. One San Diego business organization, committed to sound educational reform measures, is hitting the target squarely by finding better ways to measure improved academic performance through an innovative multiyear plan now under way.
The marksman in this metaphor is the San Diego Business Roundtable for Education.
Working with 20 charter schools in the San Diego region, the Business Roundtable is now in the second year of teaching leaders in those schools how to use data-based inquiry; develop more robust, parent-friendly School Accountability Report Cards; promote communication, collaboration and continuous improvement.
Schools are no strangers to the practice of collecting testing data. In fact, they generally gather more than they can use. But they also fail to use all this information -- from test scores to attendance figures -- to monitor what they are doing against the results they are getting.
In short, schools tend not to be "data driven" organizations.
Yet, the need to be data driven has never been greater. Accountability, as a tool that attaches rewards and sanctions to student performance, is the order of the day. What separates successful schools from the rest is the effective use of data.
Using data better
San Diego's 20 participating charters wanted to use data more effectively to manage the demands placed on them for improving student performance and fiscal management. The schools needed a thoughtful assessment strategy to provide continual analysis of the data generated from the school's internal and external measurements.
Funded by the La Jolla-based Girard Foundation, the Business Roundtable's three-year Data Analysis and Accountability Project is putting into place the infrastructure needed to collect and analyze data at the participating charter school sites. This will enable those charter schools to take student information, to monitor for individual growth and slips in achievement and be able to respond early on.
Under the Roundtable's leadership, participating schools meet three times a year to collaborate and share information. During these sessions, consultants train the charters' Data Analysts and School Accountability Teams. Also, Data Analysts meet three additional times for more in-depth training sessions while school-site visitations by project coaches provide additional introspective and mentoring opportunities.
The first year of the plan focused on identifying the essential questions, surveying and identifying gaps in existing assessment models, then determining what and how data were presently being used to guide instructional and schoolwide decision making. Each participating school developed its own data mining and collection system and organized data analysts and a school accountability team.
This year, the plan is focusing primarily on teaching school leaders how to analyze and synthesize the data and build an accountability-oriented culture within each participating charter school.
Participating schools are reporting substantial progress in selecting data collection tools. The development of meaningful assessment tools and calibrated multiple assessment pieces is still in process. Formative data is being used more effectively to monitor the level at which students are learning and whether instruction is effective. Schools are also recognizing the power of interschool connections.
Year three of the plan will focus on solidifying a schoolwide accountability culture and emphasizing the role of using data to plan improvements in school performance. Each school will develop an improvement plan both at the school and classroom levels, set specific achievement goals and then link their improvement plans to those achievement goals.
As the schools become better data-driven organizations, the impact on student achievement will be readily apparent and provide a roadmap for other public and public charter schools to emulate.
Already, schools are using the data they have collected to target increased student achievement for identified populations and to make thoughtful decisions regarding purchases of school materials.
The end result to all this is that valid testing methodologies not only give teachers, administrators and parents a more accurate picture of students' academic progress; they end up raising test scores as well.
We have talked -- and will continue to do so on future occasions -- about the need for reliable and valid accountability methods and tools to measure and improve the quality of education for our young people. If our region is ever to be known for having strong public schools, there must be an effective system of accountability and assessment tools to ensure the right focus is in place to raise student achievement.
The stakes are too high not to be able to do so.
For more information, visit www.educationroundtable.org/Accountability.
Hovenic is president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation and executive director of the Foundation's Business Roundtable for Education. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.