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Data Spotlight: Creative ways to empower students & improve instruction with data

In the hallways at JFK Using data is a challenging topic for many educators. How do you do it without putting too much focus on testing? How do you make sure students are empowered by data, not disheartened? And how do you make endless spreadsheets of numbers more palatable and even fun?

It's happening all over Nashville, as schools use data throughout the year to inform instruction and influence resource allocation. But this should not be a top-down system, with principals and teachers acting on students. The students also play a part and can be empowered to examine and interpret their own data. The people closest to the student should determine the best approach to instruction: the principal, the teacher, parents and the student himself.

Data on Display in JFK Classroom

Take a look at John F. Kennedy Middle School. One of the first things you notice when you enter JFK is the display of data throughout the halls. Principal Dr. Sam Braden models best practices in data use for his faculty and sets high expectations for school wide data use. That means:

  • School wide display of data throughout school
  • Classroom data walls
  • Data Portfolios

Dr. Braden displays aggregate-level school wide data in the hallways, so everyone entering the JKF Middle sees the progress being made. He also expects teachers to display aggregate level data in the classroom. That classroom data wall allows classes to monitor their progress. Using aggregate data for the school and for classrooms protects individual student information and keeps the focus on achievement, not competition.

Another strategy at JFK is the use of data portfolios. Both teachers and students create and maintain data portfolios that not only contain assessment data, but also goal sheets, instructional calendars, reflection sheets and student work.

This works well when you have data to use. In other classes, like kindergarten, where students do not take assessments, teachers need a different approach. After all, assessment is not just testing. Teachers assess students constantly by interacting with and observing them.

Matthew Owensby, Assistant Principal at Thomas Edison Elementary, says, “It’s difficult to know what to share and how to share it because we don’t have the same kind of hard data.”

So the Edison kindergarten team met this summer and got creative. Using the Common Core State Standards for kindergarten as the learning goals, all the K teachers created landscapes in the hallway. As students master specific standards, they add to the landscape.

Kindergarten Data Tree at Thomas Edison Elementary

For example, a student adds an apple to the tree when “I can write my first name.” That's an engaging and interactive way for students to understand their own learning. One teacher shared that a student came into school excited because he could finally write his name on his apple and add it to the landscape.

Another benefit of this approach is the communication of data to parents. The teachers shared that parents always stop by and look at the landscape when visiting the school. It is a user-friendly way to communicate expectations and progress to parents.

Practices like this are popping up all over Metro Schools. Students are learning more about what they're learning and becoming empowered in their own educations.