For the third year in a row, Massachusetts’ fourth and eighth graders have outperformed students from all other states, according to scores on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam.
While these results highlight success, a growing number of education leaders recognize that Massachusetts’ strong performance must be viewed as a starting point rather than as an end.
"I am pleased that Massachusetts students are once again at the head of the class," said Representative Martha M. Walz (D-Boston), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. "Our challenge now is to continue to improve so we not only ensure future success, but also guarantee that every student has full access to a high quality education."
An increased focus on data
Many Boston education organizations have embraced this challenge and are using data to drive strong student performance results. Education Pioneers’ Partner organization The Achievement Network (ANet) is at the forefront of the movement to increase student achievement by improving data practices.
The Achievement Network, founded in 2005 as Massachusetts Public School Performance, provides urban, low-income schools with effective data-driven strategies to identify and close gaps in student learning. The Achievement Network began supporting the work of seven schools. Over time it emerged as a national leader around student data, and now supports 85 schools, nearly 2,300 teachers and more than 18,000 students.
ANet’s strong track record of success, combined with new federal funding opportunities that place data at the center of reform, has created an even greater demand for its support.
With The Achievement Network poised to grow dramatically, Education Pioneers Fellows and Alumni are playing important roles in building the organization and pushing the education sector to not only collect data, but also to use it to inform practice.
Using data to drive performance
As Director of School Support at The Achievement Network, Education Pioneers Alumna Lindsay Wheeler (’09 Boston) coaches schools on how to build a data-driven culture.
“One of the core messages that The Achievement Network emphasizes is that data doesn’t mean anything if you don’t use it to drive performance,” Wheeler said. “Most schools have a lot of data but don’t necessarily have the background to understand how this data can be most useful. Our main purpose is to help teams decide what to do with their data so that they can turn it into action in the classroom.”
The Achievement Network’s model includes several components designed to support schools to effectively use data to increase student achievement.
First, ANet offers schools a set of standards-based interim assessments. These assessments, and their accompanying reports, provide teachers and school leaders with the data they need to pinpoint gaps in student learning throughout the year.
Directors of School Support, like Wheeler, work with school leaders to facilitate constructive conversations and develop plans to translate their data into practice.
“My goal is to help schools create a culture where data is not just an initiative or a side project, but where data is the norm – where school leaders clearly message their expectations about what the action steps are, and follow up with teachers to ensure they’re implementing their data plans,” Wheeler explained.
While Wheeler works at the school level, Education Pioneers Alumna Tara Czupryk (’09 Boston) focuses on leveraging these school-based conversations to foster a spirit of collaboration, as well as a network-wide commitment to data at both the national and regional levels. As the Network Manager, Czupryk coordinates meetings, events, and professional development sessions in which leaders and teachers from different schools come together to share best practices.
“Our Network is an incredibly diverse mix of publics, charters, and pilots who have all made a commitment to implementing effective data-driven strategies in their schools. It’s very exciting to see leaders and teachers, who are coming from such different contexts and perspectives, willingly and transparently share a common set of real-time data during the school year,” Czupryk said.
Turning theory into practice
While ANet provides schools with the tools and resources to use data to drive performance, it is up to school leaders to turn theory into action, a step that can sometimes be challenging.
Jed Lippard is the Head of School at Prospect Hill Academy, an Education Pioneers Partner and top performing public charter school in Massachusetts supported by The Achievement Network. He responds to this challenge by integrating data as a core component of the school’s educational practice.
“In 2010 – given the emphasis nationally, at the state level and locally on standardized test scores as a measure of school and student achievement – schools can ill-afford not to be responsive to data,” Lippard said.
But Lippard emphasizes the importance of adopting a multidimensional perspective on data. “The real work of school reform is in defining and interpreting data more broadly than just test scores,” he said.
Prospect Hill’s approach to professional development reflects this belief in the value of data.
“We want our professional development to be transformational, not informational, and so our core model is based on collaborative inquiry,” Lippard said. “At Prospect Hill, teams of teachers systematically meet to talk about data – broadly defined – to ask, ‘What does the data tell us? Where are there gaps in terms of what we want our students to learn versus what they’re actually learning? And, most importantly, how can we address those gaps through collaborative planning?’”
“We’re working with The Achievement Network right now, which is great,” Lippard said. “They give us real-time data that’s aligned with what’s expected on MCAS, and packaged so brilliantly to allow us to drill down and make changes at the individual and classroom levels.”
Creating a cultural shift
Prospect Hill had strong collaborative systems in place when the school began partnering with The Achievement Network. But in many cases, The Achievement Network must work with schools to create an environment in which teachers feel comfortable sharing and learning together.
“I’m working with one school this year where data meetings have really changed the culture, Wheeler said. “When I started, teachers had common planning time, but it wasn’t structured at all – it didn’t feel like a community with a culture of achievement and the teachers didn’t focus on student outcomes.” She continued, “through their data meetings, the teachers have really begun to think about standards and to use data to create a common discourse and discussion. They’ve begun to use data to improve their work.”
The Achievement Network focuses on shifting the culture within schools to change teachers’ practice within their classrooms. But ANet’s vision extends beyond this.
“We strongly believe that our schools should not only leverage ANet but also each other, in order to continuously increase their effectiveness in this work,” Czupryk explained. “We use data as a starting point to create spaces in which teachers and leaders are able to learn, share, and build ongoing and cooperative relationships with one another. The power of the Network is one of the core strengths of our program and a part of what makes ANet unique and effective,” she said.
The power of the Network is what gives ANet its name, and what gives its model the potential to drive large-scale, sustainable change across the education sector.
Greater Boston Area Program Associate