When students are known in a deep and authentic way by those who work with them, they will grow. Many studies have confirmed the positive impact that strong teacher-student relationships have on student learning. One way to get to know students better is to accurately collect and analyze data that describes where they are at in their learning.
So, what are some of things we need to know about our students? How do we help teachers know when and how to collect and use the data?
One resource that Hampton City Schools (HCS) uses to support this work is the Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words (SIPPS) program. This program helps teachers get to know their students as readers and writers.
The SIPPS program focuses on foundational literacy skills: decoding, encoding, and sight words are explicitly taught. These skills are vital for students to become fluent readers who comprehend what they read. It’s essential that this type of program has a robust assessment system that coincides with instruction at the frequency needed to ensure that students grow into strong and confident readers and writers. The SIPPS program provides placement tests, mastery tests, and lessons to support students at their instructional point of need.
However, it is not enough just to have the resources in the program. The staff using the resources needs guidance documents and professional learning in how to collect data and use it to make instructional decisions that support student growth. At HCS progress monitoring processes have been put into place to support each school in the ongoing collection and use of student data. First, there is a universal screener called the “Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening” (PALS). This tool measures students’ early literacy skills such as alphabet knowledge, phonics, and phonological awareness. All HCS students in grades K–3 take the PALS assessment in the fall and spring. Assessment results are analyzed to help teachers decide which students are tested and then placed into the SIPPS program. If a student is being considered for SIPPS, they take the SIPPS placement test. This pinpoints the exact instructional entry point for the child. Tier II SIPPS mastery tests are administered every five or ten lessons depending on the student’s level as a reader. Mastery tests help teachers determine whether the teaching pace is appropriate, monitor students’ mastery of phonics and sight words, and decide which students would benefit from extra practice.
After choosing an evidence-based resource, then conducting training and creating processes to collect and analyze data, is setting up a repository that makes it easy to access the data. At HCS our repository is called the Response to Intervention (RtI) database; all of the data collected can be found in it. At any point in time we can know where all the students are as readers. For example, I can be in my office and pull up the database to see how all of the first grade students are performing in reading based on running records and their mastery tests. This ensures timely support for staff, which means timely support for students. The database also ensures that students who move from school to school do not fall through the cracks. When a student moves from one elementary school to the next, the staff at their new school has access to their data right away and the student can be placed into continued Tier II intervention, rather than waiting weeks to start intervention. The staff will know which mastery test and lesson the student was working on. The goal is to avoid gaps in the learning progression because, as we all know, every minute counts.
When you are confident and strong in anything you do, you are typically successful. When you are successful, you are motivated to do that action more often. School leadership must grow alongside those who are collecting and using data to make instructional decisions. Stephen Covey referred to investing in one’s own growth as “sharpening the saw” and it is important no matter the role you are in that you know and understand the learning needs of students and what works for them. Educational leaders should start from places of strength and build upon those strengths. That is exactly what we are doing in HCS. We are combining the knowledge of our students with effective instructional practices to move our students forward as readers and writers.
As you are thinking about creating a systematic approach to collection and use of data, here are some guiding questions to think about:
- What are the demographics of your schools?
- Are there challenges compounding supports such a transiency, high ESL population, or leadership capacity?
- Do you have documents that help schools know how frequently students need to be assessed?
- Do you have a database to house the data?
- Do you have supports in place for what to do once data has been collected? What is your evidence that you have actionable steps in using data in your district or school?
- Do you have a resource that has ongoing data collection and usage embedded?
- What type of professional development is needed to support the effective use of the resource and the data that is collected?
- Do you know the learning needs of your students?
- Do you know the current strengths in your instructional program and data?
- Who will learn beside and with those who are doing the work?