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For years, Oregon school districts have collected student test data. In field assessments, the Oregon Education Department found that 125 different assessments existed in the state to track student progress.
But the data sat in warehouses, unused or misused. Teachers and administrators didn't know how to easily find, analyze and use student assessment results to inform instruction, said Mickey Garrison, data literacy director for the Oregon Department of Education.
Five years ago, the department started the Oregon Direct Access to Achievement Project with a $4.7 million federal grant to improve student learning. This week, the project is publishing its Year 5 report.
Through the project, Oregon now has an adaptable data framework and a network for districts that connects virtual teams of administrators and teachers around the state. The framework has also helped the state mesh the Common Core State Standards with its own.
"Moving ideas from paper into practice is not something that I'm gonna say we in education have necessarily done a good job of in the past, but the model that we created for data definitely goes deep into implementation, and that's essential," Garrison said.
By partnering with education service districts and other education groups around the state, the department provides training, follow-up coaching and support to teachers and administrators. One hundred and forty districts out of 198 currently participate, though all districts benefit.
The professional development opportunities keep the data conversation and effort going, said Rachel Wente-Chaney, the CIO of the High Desert Education Service District in Redmond. In embedded training sessions, she has heard trainer Denise Airola tell teachers what data can and cannot do.
She said Airola often emphasized that "We should not be making correlations with these small sets of classroom data. We should barely even be making a relationship. They really just show us trends and things to investigate more deeply."
Oregon districts don't have enough money and time to send every teacher and administrator to in-person trainings. But by turning teachers who do attend into data coaches, districts receive the best return on their investment. Through one-on-one and small group sessions, these teachers on special assignment help others learn how to make decisions based on student information.
The data coach model helped sustain the project on a large scale. When budget cuts hit, data coach positions often disappeared first. With some of those coaches gone, districts are asking overloaded administrators and teachers to add effective use of student information onto their plates. And that's been a challenge, Wente-Chaney said.
To overcome that challenge, Redmond gradually worked data coaches back into classroom teaching positions. While now they're primarily with students, they also play a leadership role in the schools' efforts.
Certified trainers throughout the state, partnerships with education service districts and video resources help maintain the project despite constant staffing changes in school districts. While the initial grant funding ended in the fourth year, money from a related grant has kept the project going this year. Garrison would like to continue this work at a deeper level.
"When you look at where we started with this project and where we are today, we've made great inroads, but we're not where I believe that we need to be," she said.
As dedicated data positions go away, the training team led by Garrison focuses on giving teachers quick tools and knowledge, Wente-Chaney said. At a system level, six of the education service districts in the state have data warehouses that the rest subscribe to.
Through a Web-based dashboard, teachers log in and see data from the warehouses that apply to their classrooms. They can tell when students need extra help, how certain teaching methods affect their instruction and what happens when students don't come to class.
Another tool, a Google Site template called Toolkit for Accountability, gives district staff access to meeting trackers, meeting notes sections and data analysis guides for building principals, superintendents and school board members.
More than half of Oregon school districts use Google Apps for Education. In three minutes, they can make a copy of the template in one click.
"We need that continued focus on accessible tools with low barriers to entry for the teachers and the administrators in our school districts, and that's something that you can't do once and then sit on it for 10 years," Wente-Chaney said.
Many districts are just now ready to begin using these tools. Last year, La Grande School District established school board and administrative teams, trained teacher leaders and read a book on professional learning communities by Richard and Rebecca Dufour.
Their work in professional learning communities prepared the district's 235 employees to move forward with the plan in fall 2011.
With board approval, school starts an hour later every Monday morning. During that time, teachers work together to review student test data, create formative assessments, talk about student results and plan instructional interventions to move all students forward.
To monitor the professional learning communities' progress, the school board requires teachers to submit an agenda and meeting minutes to their principal, who submits it to the superintendent. Glaze also attends different meetings.
While educators as a profession traditionally isolate themselves, La Grande School District is breaking down those barriers.
"We tend to go into the classroom, close the door and whatever happens behind that door is the curriculum. And we can't afford to do that anymore" if we want to be a globally competitive country, Glaze said. "We have to work in teams, and we have to be looking at what's best for all of our kids."
The shift to a new initiative presents three main challenges for the district.
Starting an hour late has proved difficult for parents who have younger students and need to go to work. Currently, someone supervises students who arrive early, but the district is still figuring out if it needs to do anything else.
A number of years ago, the curriculum director position was cut due to budget constraints. Glaze has taken on that role and leads the data initiative.
Finding time for additional responsibilities is tough. But because Greenwood Elementary School is in school improvement under No Child Left Behind, the Oregon Education Department provided a data coach and a district school improvement specialist to help.
The biggest challenge involves staff inertia to take on another project. Schools tend to jump on the latest bandwagon, and teachers get tired of it, Glaze said. But he stresses that this is a new way of doing business, not a bandwagon.
At each board meeting, the board members shift the focus away from peripheral things including basketball, budget and bussing, Glaze said. They publicly discuss what they're reading in the professional learning communities book.
Because they emphasize moving the district's students forward academically, most people buy in and take ownership of the program.
"It's just a really exciting time right now in our school district, and we feel good about the work that we're doing because it's the work we should be doing," Glaze said. "It's focused on student learning and outcomes for kids and making them more successful in school."
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