Category Archives: Student Data

Story-driven Education Reform — That Doesn’t Burden the Storyteller, Part Two

As I recently wrote, I’ve spent the last two years leading a body of work here at Bellwether that focuses on the experiences of young people most affected by education fragmentation. These students are served by multiple public systems, change schools frequently, and may not have a single consistent adult to help them navigate a complex web of services and programs. 

Our team has interviewed dozens of people directly impacted by these systems. While existing story collection efforts often require struggling people to be vulnerable in front of powerful strangers — which can sometimes cause unintended harm — we were committed to doing things differently. 

Check out this behind-the-scenes footage to hear more from me on our approach: 

Here are six key strategies we used to collect digital story materials while minimizing the burden on the storytellers:

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Three Lessons From a Former Educator to Make Data-Driven Instruction (More) Simple

I began each school year as a teacher and eventually instructional leader with goals posted on the walls and highlighted in yellow on team documents. “+5% increase in English Language Arts proficiency.” “Growth percentile at 65 or higher.” But by November, I invariably felt overwhelmed. I’d often ask myself: “How exactly are my students doing? And what in the world should I do tomorrow?”

A reading teacher I know uses this data tracker to share growth on academic standards with her classes

Fortunately, for instructional leaders wrestling with how to spend precious time and achieve their goals, there is an approach that can help. If there’s one practice I could go back and infuse into my early days as an educator, it’s data-driven instruction (DDI). DDI, which describes using data to analyze student learning and determine next steps for teaching, helps instructional leaders prioritize teacher development while keeping the spotlight on student growth.

As a former teacher at KIPP* and director of curriculum and instruction at DSST Public Schools, I know that DDI is one of the most impactful systems a school can establish. And it doesn’t need to be complicated. 

My time as a summer fellow at Bellwether has led me to three clear lessons about DDI:

DDI doesn’t exclusively mean numbers.

Looking at student work can be a profoundly productive process for teachers and coaches. Grab a pile of papers from class, and see what students were actually doing. What steps did they take or not take? What does this tell you about how they were thinking? The simple act of discussing how a student solved a math problem or responded to a writing prompt can help a teacher know what to do to help students grow. What’s more, engaging in this discussion as a department team can lead to greater collaboration and alignment between different grade levels. 

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How Bellwether Transformed Agencies Supporting Youth in Utah, California, and Louisiana, Part 1

Quote from Atila in El Dorado County, CA saying "I just always felt behind/I never felt smart" and ""as far as learning went, there wasn't a whole lot of that. i never was able to stay in one spot for one full school year, until 7th grade. really didn't even learn to read until about 6th, 7th grade."

Atila in El Dorado County, CA (from a series of Bellwether visuals)

Young people served by multiple agencies — like schools, mental health providers, child welfare agencies, and community nonprofits — experience a fragmented network of care. In fact, as Bellwether has pointed out again and again, fragmentation across care agencies results in uncoordinated, poorly communicated, and insufficient supports for some of our nation’s most vulnerable young people. And this means they are not getting the education they need and deserve.

We’ve been working on these issues, both as researchers and consultants on the ground, for more than two years. We’ve developed a unique approach to supporting local leaders as they streamline the educational supports for high-need students and break down the silos that exist between care agencies at the state and local levels.

Our approach places the education system at the center of all services, acting as the through-line for students. We do this because schools are the places where every kid shows up — education can be the one constant in the midst of chaos. Continue reading

3 Things Head Start Programs Can Do Right Now to Improve Their Practice

Research tells us that, overall, Head Start has positive effects on children’s health, education, and economic outcomes. But there is wide variability in quality from program to program — and, as a field, we don’t understand why. 

Earlier this year, Sara Mead and I tried to figure that out. We published an analysis, conducted over three years, of several of the highest performing Head Start programs across the country. We specifically looked at programs that produce significant learning gains for children. Our goal was to understand what made them so effective.

As part of this project, we provided detailed, tactical information about exemplars’ design and practices. We hope to serve as a resource and starting point for other Head Start programs interested in experimenting with something new and, potentially, more effective.

Here are three action steps that Head Start programs can take right now to improve their practice:  Continue reading

Media: “Everyone’s job but no one’s responsibility” in The Hechinger Report

Some of our country’s most vulnerable students get too little from too many people. Read more from me and Kelly Robson over at The Hechinger Report:

Approximately five million students who are served by public care agencies have multiple official adults in their lives — judges, lawyers, therapists, volunteers, teachers, counselors, case managers, social workers and more — people paid to support them when they experience significant life circumstances like homelessness, foster care or incarceration.

That five million does not include those students who experience instability resulting from uncounted experiences like evictions, parental arrests, prolonged family medical crises, migrant work and other major life disruptions. These are generally not students who are “falling through the cracks” and being served by no one. Quite the opposite — they are instead being served by everyone.

Bellwether is currently partnering with California’s El Dorado County to address education fragmentation. Our Hechinger piece is a great story about the folks we’ve been working with and the impact this work can have. For more context, check out our recent report: “Continuity Counts: Coordinated Education Systems for Students in Transition.”