As we work with school districts on the use of student growth data for teacher evaluation purposes some interesting revelations are occurring. High School teachers are finding out that students know a whole lot more than the teachers thought they knew. Elementary teachers are discovering that not all students go “brain dead” over the summer months and many maintain and even grow the knowledge that they left the previous grade with.
I have written before about the use of data to make decisions. I have learned a lot about the use of data from individuals with MBA type degrees. I remember talking to an alternative certified superintendent (did not travel through the traditional education duties of teacher, building level administrator to superintendent) who was asking me questions concerning what factors I used to analyze the hiring of new teachers. I had to admit that we used a certain cadre of questions but in the end we made the hiring decision on non-scientific type responses such as the candidates love for children.
This administrator related to me an analysis he was doing with teachers in his district. The district had a majority of students from Spanish speaking families. He had analyzed student growth scores disaggregated by the native language of the teacher. He divided teachers into three groups; 1) Native English speakers no Spanish skills; 2) Native English speakers with Spanish as a second language; and 3) Native Spanish speakers with English as a second language. His analysis determined that students in classrooms with native Spanish speakers with English as second language outperformed all others. Second were native English speakers with Spanish secondary and last were English only speakers. He told me that they were going to use these results as a screening tool in the interview process for new teachers.
While I do not think using student growth for teacher evaluation purposes will be an evolutionary changing experience for public education, I do think using data to think about what we are doing will be important for improving education.
In another example of using data to make decisions was an analysis I did concerning high school student performance results on the ACT vs the same student’s results on the WorkKeys portion of the PSAE. High School administrators and teachers were concerned that students did not try as hard on the WorkKeys as they did on the ACT because the ACT counted for college admission and the WorkKeys had no high stakes result. I analyzed the scores using a decile (each of ten equal groups into which a population can be divided according to the distribution of values of a particular variable) analysis and discovered that there was no significant difference in student scores. In other words if a student scored in the top 10% on the ACT they also scored in the top 10% of the WorkKeys.
A high school district superintendent shared another example to me. In this use of data the district analyzed the math courses that students took in middle school against the grades and level of math the same student earned in high school. It was determined that students who successfully completed Algebra I in the 8th grade had a 93% chance of getting a 24 or better on the ACT test as a high school junior. Conversely a middle school student who only progressed through 8th grade remedial math had only a 2% chance of scoring a 24 or better on the ACT. Once these statistics were communicated to parents at the elementary level the feeding elementary districts had much greater success getting students to enroll in more rigorous math classes.