How I Lead Data-driven Teacher Ingenuity and Student Growth

Aspen Valley Preparatory Academy is entering its third year of using Summit Learning in our 4th through 8th grades. When we joined Summit Learning with a cohort of 132 schools nationwide in the 2016-2017 school year, we had no idea what great things were ahead of us or how data-driven decisions would play a pivotal role in our achievements.

We just knew that this change needed to happen for the success of our students both academically and beyond.

The central valley of California is extremely poverty stricken. Our hometown, Fresno, is second in the nation for extreme poverty, with our neighbor to the south, Bakersfield, being the number one.

We knew that in order to change these statistics for our students we had to change the way we educated them. We believe their education, along with great mentoring relationships, is their ticket to get out of poverty.

When we started our first year, we had two first-year teachers and two provisional intern teachers to teach 6th through 8th grade English, Math, Science, and History courses. I knew I would have to support more than just the move to Summit Learning as they developed their instructional and classroom strategies. I was thankful for the tools within the Summit Learning Platform that helped me organize, with data, ways they could improve little by little.

Data-driven Change

As a school leader, I looked at the Summit Learning data on a weekly basis through a data management system called Tableau. I was able to pinpoint and clearly communicate areas of growth for both the students and teachers.

My most important data points were the number of incompletes, and number of Power Focus Areas that students were behind. Power Focus areas comprise content across grade spans that are aligned to the Common Core Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. Each Power Focus Area is aligned to a Project where students apply their Content Knowledge and Cognitive Skills. I also looked at the number of Projects overdue, and percentage behind in passing Cognitive Skills for each student in Summit Learning. I pooled all of the data into a spreadsheet and did various formulas to compare previous weeks to find growth or other patterns, class by class. (You can see a sample of the work I did on a weekly basis in this spreadsheet).

I wanted to give teachers a clear picture of how many of their students in their classes had incompletes, were on track with their Power Focus Areas, were behind in their Power Focus Areas, how many were not turning in their Projects, and how many students were not passing their Cognitive Skills.

This coming year, school leaders will have access to a school data dashboard that allows easier analysis of this data. But when I first started using class-by-class data, there wasn’t a simple way for the teachers to see this data at a glance. I created a short form email that I sent them each week with their corresponding data and highlighted where they grew in each of their courses. For example, if they were able to get more students on track in their Focus Areas or if more students turned in their Projects and so on.  

Data-driven Goals and Contests

The teachers appreciated seeing their class data in a clear quick format and even displayed the class data on a board in their classrooms. They used this data to set personal goals for where they could drive the most bang for their buck to improve student outcomes. Some teachers would follow up with more targeted Workshops for improving student understanding and passing rates of Power Focus Areas or helping students improve their Cognitive Skills.

We also held contests based on the areas of most need to help motivate the students. For example, when we saw the Power Focus Area passing rates were getting behind we initiated a hot cocoa hot streak, where students who passed two Power Focus Areas in one week would get a cup of hot cocoa.

Also, when we wanted to improve Cognitive Skills we held March Madness-type contest were students were put into heterogeneous groups (based on Cognitive Skill averages). They came up with a team name and each week they competed against another team. The team who improved their Cognitive Skill average the most would move on in the bracket challenge to compete against another team and so on, until there was a single winning team who won a pizza and movie day party.  I created a Google Doc for teachers to share and exchange contest ideas. There are many more in there to draw inspiration from.

The teachers also appreciated seeing positive feedback in the data as they focused their efforts on class improvement.

For example, they would change how they would assist students in building Self-Direction in the classroom, then look at the data to see if those changes made a difference.

Data-driven Focus and Clarity

All of this helps our team to stay focused on what’s working.

One teacher told me, “It’s a snapshot of what we know. A quick reminder of where we should focus the largest amount of our energy. If numbers declined in one area, I would plan extra workshops or discuss in mentor meetings. When data was positive, I reflected on what was working and why.

“The weekly emails help to sum up the data we use daily. I often opened up old emails for comparisons to use for reflection and planning of workshops.”

In addition, our school leader team did weekly observations of their teaching practices in the classroom and then would give feedback in a short meeting after based off of the Summit Look-Fors.

The Summit Look-Fors are key strategies to demonstrate personalized learning within a Summit Learning classroom. The team would discuss with the individual teachers areas of greatness and areas of growth to then create short term goals based on the feedback.

With all of this data-driven feedback, I was able to differentiate my support with each teacher by individually quantifying the best instructional strategies and approaches to improve student outcomes in each classroom.

Overall, we feel it is incredibly important to use data to drive instruction within a Summit Learning classroom. We look forward to using the new school data dashboard within the Platform this upcoming school year.

We have seen so much growth both with our new teachers as well as seasoned teachers new to the Program. A great teacher doesn’t have to take 10 years to be developed; With short, data-driven instructional feedback, they can become great much faster.

Inspired by this school leader’s approach to using data to improve student outcomes? Learn more about using data with Summit Learning on the blog.

About the author

Hilary Downs
Hilary Downs is the Director of Summit Learning at Aspen Public Schools. She graduated from CSU Fresno with a B.S. in Biology in 2003. She worked outside of education for a reference laboratory but decided to pursue her passion of teaching a few years later. In 2007, she began working as a science and math teacher for 8th-12th grades at Aspen Valley Preparatory Academy in Fresno, California. She earned her credential in biological sciences and introductory mathematics and taught for 10 years before being asked to leave the classroom to run the Summit Learning Program at the school.