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Technology to the Rescue: Managing Student Performance Data

Dan Ryder
August, 2002


In 1997, La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District set a tough goal: All students will write at grade level in three years. To move toward this goal, the district adopted a trait-scored writing assessment.


"We were aware that there were big gaps in our practice. For instance, we did not have writing assessments that were useful beyond helping students with spelling and punctuation," said Superintendent. "But we needed more than a good assessment of individual work," she continued. "We needed a tool that would help us look at our effectiveness as a teaching team."


The district trained all K-12 teachers in the new assessment, calibrated their scoring, and established a program of writing across the curriculum with formal scoring six times a year.


Writing scores shot up. The middle school started the year with 21% writing at grade level and ended with 67%. Migrant students in Grade 8 went from 25% to 73% at grade level at the end of the year. Everyone wrote better, including teachers and administrators.


Trait-scored writing evaluates four to seven elements. Rather than giving a paper a single, holistic grade and some notes in the margins indicating needed improvements in spelling and punctuation, teachers evaluate the thesis, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions, voice and presentation using individual rubrics. The result: precise methods to assess and coach on each trait-and a pile of data four to seven times deeper than normal.


The Data Pile

With seven scores for each paper, what was important and what should be done about it? The elements that could determine best practices and identify leverage points through collaboration lived in this daunting data pile. The pile had to be organized, analyzed and interpreted.


According to a district principal, "Tech support was the precursor to effective collaboration and management."


The tech support came in the form of a district-developed database, which teachers access from their desktops. They enter data as they score their papers.


At first, teachers were leery of the process, but according to a Grade 3-4 teacher at La Honda Elementary School, "It's not that difficult, not with our support. It's simply no big deal to enter the data."


The data are analyzed, charted and published for various stakeholders within a few days of entry. Teachers get their results student-by-student and trait-by-trait with a read out of progress for the year. Charts and other data displays show teachers leverage points for improving student performance. When grade-level clusters meet, teachers compare their charts for the past several writings and collaborate on practices that focus on areas of common concern. If there is a trend across many classes and improvement is inordinately slow, action research is assigned to import or develop new practices to address teaching those traits.


Parents receive Individual Literacy Plans three times a year containing pertinent information on how they can coach their students to improve. In Grades 6-12, parents get reports on every trait in every subject.


School-wide and district-wide data and analysis help managers identify students who are falling behind, weaknesses and strength of individual programs and teachers, areas where current practice yields substandard results and the effectiveness of staff development.


Tech's Role in the Classroom

Data are entered once in a Filemaker Pro database. Most reports are generated directly from the database; however, the powerful charts that show the percent of students at or above grade level are made by exporting the data to Excel. Once data are entered, most other functions are carried out by district office staff.


This alliance of tech personnel with teachers has clearly been the key to accelerating student learning in this district and it has opened new areas of inquiry, research and educational development.


Learn more about Using Technology to Make Sense of Data.


Copyright 2002 Santa Cruz County Office of Education