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District Uses Testing Data to Improve Student Outcomes

NJSLA Results Next Steps

At the December Manchester Board of Education meeting, members of the district’s Curriculum Department reviewed ways the district is using data analysis of NJSLA and other testing results to devise strategies to increase student achievement and improve test scores. The presentation was a follow-up to their October NJSLA Results presentation

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Director of Curriculum, Diane Pedroza, reviewed the steps that are used at the district level. In July, administrators participated in a summer training with Dr. Tracey Severns called “The Leader’s Role in Using Data to Improve Student Outcomes.” Data was not yet available at the time of this training, however, Pedroza said it was a valuable session to help prepare them to focus on the data as a team. “What she discussed with us was ‘Let the data create a picture.  Look at the data. See what’s there and then determine what the trends are and what story it is telling’.” Once the data was released, there was a followup meeting in October with Dr. Severns to unpack the data. After that, Pedroza said there were building level meetings and then administrators met with the Superintendent to review each building’s data to look at trends and discuss how to address them. 

At the elementary schools, Supervisor Michelle Nichol said there were building level committee meetings and staff collaboration using what was learned from Dr. Severns. “Most importantly, to let the data tell the story, to see the data as more than just the numbers.” She said they looked at what the data is telling them about the students, programs, instructional strategies, assessment strategies and classroom practices, as well as how assessments used in the classroom compared to the state assessments.

“We analyzed grade level trends and we did a scatter plot analysis because we wanted to see individual students, were they growing a year’s worth of growth from one year to the next?” she said. “We like to look at individual students, individual grade levels, and look at growth to make sure our students are growing at the rate that they should be.”
Nichol said there were grade level meetings for analysis of instructional practices and refinement of lesson plans and strategies to elevate standards. “We took a really good look at our lesson plans and we refined our lesson plan templates to help teachers really refine their standards-based instruction, to help them look at the standards, create really solid objectives and then use our resources and strategies to be able to implement those into our classrooms.”

The elementary schools continue to use the district’s Tiered System of Supports for intervention and targeted instruction. They have implemented the new Ready Classroom mathematics program and new social emotional learning practices. They continue to offer staff professional development opportunities and to refine Title I and after school programs. “It’s much more than just a homework help program,” said Nichol. “We’ve infused our personalized learning resources. We have set guidelines in terms of the targeted interventions that are taking place in those programs. Teachers are getting specific lesson plans from our iReady data that they can pull into those programs, and each individual student’s needs are being met.”

At the middle school level, Supervisor Linda Saraceno said they changed the format of their department, grade level and faculty meetings to meet as a whole group and then break off to department level in certain meetings. They also created a textbook review committee. “Nowadays, it’s not just the book it’s the whole program that you are assessing so we want to look at what we have and what’s available out there,” she remarked. The middle school continues to expand the use of the Tiered System of Supports, and recently held a teacher-led professional development workshop were teachers shared their practices in tracking data and interventions.

Saraceno said the middle school brought in Schoolwide Inc. to provide professional development in writing instruction, including a coaching day where the representative went into classrooms to observe and coach teachers. She said that reading and writing is a building-wide effort with classes using a lot of nonfiction and informational texts in non-ELA subjects like history and science.  To support that, teachers in the English department provided a professional development on “Notice and Note Nonfiction Signposts” so that students will have a common language throughout all of the content areas.

“The (middle school) social studies and English language arts teachers got together and developed standards-based daily practices that are being used for every ELA class and every social studies class. They are based on the released items from the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment so they are actual items that the students were tested on that the state releases,” Saraceno said. “We created short exercises for students to practice. The teachers got together with me and we created a model block. The teachers looked at a K-2 block, grade 3 block and grade 4-5 block to see where the students are coming from as they're entering the middle school and how we can better refine what we're doing during that literacy block.” 

The middle school also has a social emotional learning initiative, using Sarah Stevenson and Mindful Education Services, which Saraceno said matches up nicely with the New Jersey Tiered Systems of Support.  She said they are also refining their Title I programs to encourage more students to attend. 

At the high school, Supervisor Maureen Moore said they are basically following the same process with the assessment committee and will be sharing information to the staff in January on their findings. ELA and mathematics departments have already met to do analysis of the evidence statements compared to the curriculum. They also held data conferences with those teachers to discuss student performance and the curriculum. 

Among the new programs at the high school is the AIM Program, which targets 8th and 9th grade students having difficulties in ELA and mathematics with a summer program. Moore said that additional remedial semester courses would be added to support students not attending the AIM summer program. 

“Professional development at the high school is supporting our initiatives and what our findings are saying,” said Moore. “Our ELA professional development includes support for implementation of the new 9th grade textbook that was purchased last year. For mathematics, Education Resource Group came in and talked to the algebra and geometry teachers, providing coaching on mathematical mindset and mathematical practices within the classroom to increase the rigor of the content.” She added that articulation with Lakehurst, whose students go to Manchester high school, is ongoing, including implementing the AIM program there. 

“Instructional practices that we’re looking at for the high school include a book study by ELA teachers of the book ‘180 Days.’ It is developing the reader's workshop model in their classes so they are learning about that and talking to each other about that,” said Moore. 

“Department goals for all the departments are to increase reading and writing in all content areas, really addressing the ELA standards, looking at the anchor standards and making sure they're being pulled into those classes to support the ELA,” Moore stated. “For mathematics, we are looking at the textbooks and trying to find a book that really supports the NJ student learning standards and practices and really flipping how were giving that instruction.”

Superintendent David Trethaway, remarked, “We have so much more access to data, which is a good thing but it’s also a dangerous thing because there’s only one thing worse than not using the data, and that’s making the wrong conclusions from the data and it’s very simple to do that. In the old days we looked at the raw score and said okay this is good, this is bad, an 87 is better than an 85. It’s a lot more complex than that. Now, a raw score really doesn’t tell us anything. You have to look at comparisons. You have to look at the whole picture. Where are we compared with the state? Where are we compared with the county? Where do we compare to similar districts? And not only do you have to compare that, but the other important thing is where our growth is - looking at how a particular student scored in 4th grade and where he scored in 5th grade. And not necessarily how he scored but how he scored in comparison to the state, because raw scores could be totally different - a 50 in the 3rd grade test could actually be worse than a 20 in the 4th grade test.” He said the district also has to look all of the subgroups like grade levels, economically disadvantaged, special needs, etc. and all of those have to show growth. “So it’s a tremendous amount and unfortunately we are given these results after those students have now moved on. It’s like trying to fix the airplane while we’re flying it.”

“Looking at trends, the key is what do we need to do to change instruction, do we need to change instruction, what do we need to address, are there specific areas.” He said that the staff and administration are really targeting these issues and concentrating on curriculum refinement at faculty meetings. “The district is also doing a lot more formative assessment throughout the year,” he said. “You can’t just wait until the end of the year and say, well I guess we need to work on this. Our staff is continually monitoring throughout the year.”