Making education data actionable

This is part of a blog series that highlights the work our partners are doing to improve the experience of Central Texas children by providing quality school options for all families. Find the entire series here.

We know that data – even very powerful data – without the tools to translate it to action is essentially useless to educators.  It’s merely numbers without the ability to change policy and practice.  But when you add insight to those numbers – what they mean, what they tell you, how you can act on them – they can become a very powerful tool for educators.

What if educators had just that? If school superintendents had access to real data insights that demonstrated which school structures best served students.  If principals had the power to see which teacher placement policies were most effective.  If teachers could individualize supports to the unidentified students who were actually falling behind, and reinforce practices for students who were excelling quickly.

That type of compelling data tool was exactly what we went in search of five years ago.  Frustrated with “make or break” decisions being made based on a minimum standard passing rate, superintendents across Central Texas asked us at E3 Alliance to look for a more powerful, multi-dimensional way to measure student academic growth.  Our E3 researchers spent almost a year identifying the most robust student academic growth model in the country, and reformulating it to work for our students in Texas.

The outcome? We brought a service called 3D Growth to Texas, helping educators measure school, grade, teacher, and student academic growth for more effective teaching and learning in our schools. 3D Growth is a powerful set of analytic tools and consulting services centered around student academic growth.

3D Growth helps to display data in a way that makes sense to practitioners. It allows districts, principals and teachers – those working closest with our students – to turn data into changed policies and practices that will make a difference for schools in Texas and beyond.

Data to action: The model

With the 3D Growth model, we work with districts and schools to compare each student’s academic achievement with peers across the state who have performed at the same level in the past to see how each student’s growth compares to his or her peers, then we roll up student rankings to see how each campus is progressing. These five steps explain how growth on each campus is calculated:

  1. Measure the performance of all students in the state.
  2. Identify groups of students with identical performance in prior years in a given subject.
  3. Rank order academic peers by this year’s score.
  4. Assign these students a percentile ranking based on this year’s score.
  5. Campuses get growth scores based on the median ranking of students on that campus.

This process allows for tracking of growth rankings in different subject areas, grades, student groups, and for entire campuses to draw conclusions about student achievement. We then provide regional “best in class” exemplars and statewide rankings, allowing schools of any demographic to rank their growth and compare themselves to similar high-growth peers to identify replicable practices. And we can look at longitudinal trends of growth scores for individual teachers and students, to look for ways to support higher academic growth over time.

Supporting campus leaders for improved student outcomes

So we have the data, but the numbers alone are not enough if practitioners don’t have the tools and knowledge to translate the data into action.

To solve for this, we created multi-day workshops to train district and campus leaders to effectively map longitudinal data to changes in student growth, identify campus priorities, and implement process improvements. These improvements can range from rethinking teacher placement practices to making sure teachers in a given content area are aligning their practices, to adjusting interventions to best serve students based on how they are progressing. The workshops provide tangible tools that help principals drive change forward and prioritize improvements to instructional practice. The ultimate winners are teachers and students who can achieve higher growth across their campuses.

And the workshops are working.  Here’s just some of the feedback from district leaders who have participated in 3D Growth workshops:

“This gave me complex data in an easier to digest format. Numbers became action plans.” – Principal

“This work utilizing 3D Growth will help us identify assessment needs and priorities that might otherwise prove elusive.  We will be able to create very specific campus and district goals to help all of our students be successful.” – Superintendent

“My team was so impressed with the data you shared; they told me it was the most beneficial presentation they had seen, because it used pertinent data in a way that shows positives and negatives that should drive decision making. Hooray to you and your team!” – Superintendent

Better learning for all students

3D Growth helps to display data in a way that makes sense to practitioners.  It allows districts, principals and teachers – those working closest with our students – to turn data into changed policies and practices that will make a difference for schools in Texas and beyond. 3D Growth has solved a very important problem for educators: it has enabled them to make better decisions on behalf of their students using powerful objective data.  Before they were trying to solve a puzzle with missing pieces, which is an impossible task.  This tool has given them those missing pieces, and helped them to see the entire picture.

Susan Dawson is a Texas entrepreneur, business and civic leader.  She founded and leads the E3 Alliance (for Education Equals Economics), a regional collaborative to increase economic outcomes by aligning our education systems to fulfill the potential of every student. E3 Alliance has been recognized across the country for its ground-breaking work in systemic change for education.

Other blogs in the series:

Breaking the cycle of poverty through education

Data without response is just data