In northern Alabama, a school district is conquering standards and showing proficiency significantly higher than the statewide average. Madison City Schools’ leadership teams have built lofty goals on the use of reliable data.
“Data from Renaissance Star Assessments® is an integral part of our data meetings. We study growth, weaknesses, strengths, target skills that need more attention, and students who need more attention,” says Superintendent Dr. Dee Fowler.
Data meetings in the Madison City School District are unique, according to Stacy Blair, Elementary Instruction Specialist for the district. Dr. Fowler leads the data meetings with administrators and their teams to take a deep look at data, especially Student Growth Percentile, to ensure students are meeting growth targets.
“Our leadership has embraced this philosophy,” Blair said. “The district has changed the focus from summative to formative. There’s no ‘gotcha’—data is used to change instruction for students the next day.”
“Principals in data meetings see everyone’s data,” Fowler explained. “Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes they want us to move on from their data quickly!”
Then, in individual meetings, principals drill down to single classrooms to see where growth has happened and where achievement is at that time. At the school level, educators can look deeper into data using reports aligned to Alabama state standards to meet student needs.
The district-wide focus on data has paid off. Madison City Schools achieved more than 20 percent higher proficiency than the statewide average for the 2015 ACT Aspire tests. Star scores align closely—within one or two points—to Aspire benchmarks, says Dr. Fowler.
Although leaders know they will be judged in the community by spring tests—a reality for 40 years, said Dr. Fowler—it’s important that Madison City Schools give the community a reason to support them. School leaders maintain that the information they get from Aspire tests is not enough.
“Aspire is an autopsy—we get them in the summer when you can’t do anything about it,” Dr. Fowler said. “It tells us who is proficient, but that’s all it tells us. We met with a school that had 80 percent of students rated ‘proficient,’ but we were disappointed that they hadn’t progressed.”
Star has given educators in the district a window into students’ current ability level instead of waiting to the end of the year to find out what has happened. Instead, educators know exactly how each student is progressing and can intervene, or share the student’s progress with parents.
“We run parent reports and send progress reports home with students,” Blair explained. “Data profile cards are used in lower grades during parent-teacher conferences.”
The leaders at Madison City credit success to raising the proficiency standards on Star from the RTI recommended 40th percentile to its own standard of the 60th percentile. This year, proficiency standards have been raised to the 65th percentile.