DA op-ed: Improving student achievement every day

Using data to drive teaching increases proficiency

As educators and school leaders, our goal is to help students reach their greatest potential and be prepared for the future. But if data is not driving all education decisions, a school’s efforts will often fall short.

In order to make improvements at Arizona Virtual Academy, we revamped our processes to use K12 student data to measure progress toward academic achievement. The results of this effort are worth sharing.

The Academic Excellence Framework brings the faculty together to define priorities, identify challenges, set timelines and establish measurable goals relating to the following areas:

  • continuous improvement
  • culture
  • assessment
  • data-driven instruction
  • observation and feedback
  • staffing
  • professional development

Our first challenge was to identify ways we could personalize education for every student. We created a methodology that we would use to work with struggling learners while providing advanced and on-grade level students with opportunities to explore interests and learn more.

This often meant we had to fill multiple education gaps when teaching to grade-level standards. We committed to daily and weekly reviews of student assessment data to inform our instruction and evaluate its effectiveness. We provided students with targeted interventions for their specific learning needs.

Setting baselines

To improve accountability and engagement, teachers accelerated the assignment and grading schedule to allow for a more timely review of student performance data.

We measure student achievement, and adjust instruction accordingly, through a variety of assessments throughout the year. First, students are tested to identify baseline gaps. For instance, a student who hasn’t mastered fractions will not be able to succeed in algebra until that gap is closed. Teachers then work to ensure learners have the skills to move forward, with periodic quizzes, tests, check-ins and formal interim assessments to measure growth.

We also use real-time engagement data to determine whether students are participating in class and completing assignments. Each of these data points offers an opportunity for teachers to identify students who have not yet mastered the course material, and to address issues as they arise through reteaching.

We measure student achievement, and adjust instruction accordingly, through a variety of assessments throughout the year.

Solid results

Just one school year after implementing this new framework, Arizona Virtual Academy saw substantial gains among students. Our high school students closed a 12 percentage point deficit in English language arts scores, missing the state average by one point.

The share of students achieving proficiency jumped 13 percentage points during this period.

Gains in math were just as substantial, with algebra I students outpacing the state average by 10 percentage points, and an additional 27 percent of students achieving proficiency.

The academic gains have been significant, but the biggest change has been a facultywide understanding that student data helps drive how we approach learning.

In the past, we used data as a tool to evaluate students, but it was not the driving force behind how we educated them.

Now, our teachers review student data daily. They adjust lesson plans and tailor instruction to provide targeted help to students who need it, and to provide acceleration and new learning opportunities for those who are performing well.

Kelly Van Sande is the head of school at Arizona Virtual Academy.

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