Holly Herndon no longer waits for district officials to crunch the local assessment numbers before she can make decisions on instruction. Herndon, like other teachers in Florida's School District of Indian River County, can access her classroom's assessment results-24 hours after the exams are scored-using a new data management software tool.
Adjusting focus: Recently, Herndon discovered many students were struggling to master a particular reading benchmark. She began spending more class time on activities designed to address those deficiencies. "I see in one big picture what it is exactly that they are struggling with."
Software that works: The district's data-driven decision-making got a major boost nearly three years ago when it starting using Performance Matters. The system gives administrators, principals and teachers quick access to students' state and local assessment data, demographic information, grades, attendance and disciplinary records.
Easy to use: The software produces color-coded charts that school staff can analyze to track cohorts of students, gauge their readiness for state tests and analyze student weaknesses on state standards.
Targeted teacher training: According to Sue Curtis, executive director of elementary education, the rapidly updated data allows teachers to tailor their professional development opportunities to address weaknesses revealed by local assessment results. "Their professional development plan should be based on what their students need," says Curtis. "By having the data in Performance Matters, teachers have that right in front of them."
Making adjustments: By analyzing the frequently updated information, school officials can see which children are weak in a certain benchmark. If necessary, they can pull those kids from their classrooms into small groups to focus on specific concepts, says Curtis. "They are not dependent on the teacher coming to ask for help."
Improving math skills: Curtis credits the data-management system for helping the district address a recent drop in third-grade math performance on state assessments. "We started asking our schools, 'What do you think is going on?' " Curtis says. District administrators discovered that teachers often were skimming a classroom activity that involved using manipulatives to help students construct and understand math concepts. "It's those kinds of activities that the teachers were telling us they were not taking the time to do," Curtis says. "Our data was showing us that this is making an impact."
Predicting performance: The system enables the district to gauge how well local assessments can predict state test results. It also helps the district quickly analyze benchmark data to determine whether a school is on track to meet state and federal performance targets, adds Curtis.
Keeping parents in the loop: One more benefit is improved communication with parents. The easy-to-read, color-coded charts help parents understand their children's performance. "Parents don't always understand the assessments that we do," says Herndon. "Showing it visually is much more appealing to them."
Kevin Butler is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.