Academic Triage Before an Academic Autopsy

The standards era in education which was ushered in with the full force of a tropical hurricane under No Child left Behind (NCLB) has leveraged "accountability" into compliance with the common core, state testing, school "improvement" requirements and the inevitable comparisons of schools and districts across the state. Superintendents have been quite vocal in their dissatisfaction and mistrust of the reliability and validity of state local report cards (LRC).

In Ohio for example, there have been three different test vendors used over the last three years. Not only have the test manufacturers changed, but so have the so called "cut scores" that determine the line of passing and failing. While all educators welcome high expectations and accountability for student performance, very few are fond of the perpetual moving target known as the LRC. Numerous superintendents have communicated to their local communities their lack of faith in these reports. Moreover, the way the state report cards are structured currently, districts are in the dilemma of only being able to perform an "autopsy" when what we need in education is "triage" along the way.

As part of my work at Software Answers I conduct field research with practicing superintendents and other educators. This past summer for instance, I interviewed 14 sitting superintendents and 20 other various central office personnel in order to get their feedback on the current report card and whether there may be a more useful tool for them to positively impact instruction. My first impression was that these educators would like to have an "Interactive Report Card" that contained all of the elements of the current LRC. While seeing the value of many aspects for the report card, my field work took me in a different direction based on the feedback that I heard. The concept that was gleaned from this work is that of an "Academic Dashboard" that provides important data to educators in real time during the school year so that "triage" can be performed and various interventions and instructional strategies implemented. The summer after the kids have left is no time to analyze data. By then, "triage" is impossible and all we have left is an "autopsy".

As a result, I have come up with a proposal to "fix the plane while it is in flight". Some components of the current Local Repot Card (LRC) remain but the focus is to use the elements that guide instruction This is all made possible with the educational technology we now have at our fingertips. It is simply a matter of identifying the "right" information and putting it in a usable format for educators that is easy to use, quick to access and allows for easy collaboration. Below I describe the elements of the "Academic Dashboard". All of the elements of the dashboard will be searchable by district, building, class, teacher, sub-group and student.
 

KRA DATA

The Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA) is the first element of the dashboard. KRA data provides information with in the first month of school indicating if a child is "emerging", "approaching" or "demonstrating" readiness for kindergarten in five areas. The five areas include Social Foundations, Language and Literacy, Mathematics, Physical Well-Being Motor Development and an Overall score. This data is essential fo kindergarten teachers to provide interventions to individual students and groups of students very early in the kindergarten experience in an effort to ensure that all students are reaching the identified benchmarks. Superintendents and principals can use this data to be better informed where to allocate current and future resources as well as strategic personnel placement. Districts will be in a better position after reviewing longitudinal data to provide feedback about trends to local day care providers as well as parents who keep their children at home until the kindergarten journey begins.This data potentially could provide an entire pre-school collaborative between parents, day cares and the public school to enhance the chance that every child entering kindergarten is not behind before they even start. Click here for more information about Ohio's use of the KRA
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K-3 LITERACY DATA

K-3 Literacy is an element of the Ohio LRC that grew out of the "Third Grade Guarantee" or the notion that all students wil be reading on grade level no later than the end of third grade. If we can put the conversations of flunking students and punishing schools aside, the data produced in this element can provide exceedingly important insights in order to reach the educational nirvana of every child being on grade level for reading so early in their educational career. There is plenty of research that points to the importance of reading as a basis of all other learning. Consequently, future academic success is contingent on this concept.This data is derived from reading diagnostics in kindergarten, 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades. Students not on grade level are given formal interventions known as Reading Improvement Plans (RIMPs). Because data is collected through diagnostics, "triage" can take place along the way. 

OHIO STATE TESTS (OST) GRADES 3-8

This element of the Academic Dashboard provides academic data in the four core areas through middle school. The testing information includes math and English language arts in grades three though eight. It also contains social studies tests from fourth and sixth grade and science results from grades five and eight. Here is an overview of Ohio's test schedule in these middle years. In order for the "triage" to work with this data, districts need to use the best practice of locally generated quarterly assessments that are aligned to the respective OST. For example, all grades sixth grade teachers in a particular school district would administer a state aligned locally generated assessment to all sixth graders at the end of quarter one, quarter two and quarter three. Results of each of these tests could be used for collaborative work among colleagues and more importantly to inform instruction in the next academic quarter. Final OST results would be used to inform instruction for next year's receiving teacher and to assess long term data trends.

EARLY HIGH SCHOOL DATA

The high school years provide a myriad of standardized examination opportunities. Some can serve as "triage" if used properly while others are better served to inform instruction for the future yet still very valuable. I will first address the tests that conform with the major tenet of this blog which is informing instruction. I wil then address the terminal exams that provide clues to future instruction. Ohio requires End of Course Exams (EOC) for the following subjects: Algebra 1, Biology, English 1, English 2, Geometry, Government, U.S. History, Math 1, Math 2 and Physical Science. The EOCs make up one of the "pathways" to graduation that will be discussed later. For "triage" to work, instructors need to develop and administer quarterly assessments aligned to these EOCs similarly to the 3-8 exams discussed earlier. This data would be uploaded to the Academic Dashboard for easy quick reference. The College Board provides the PSAT and the American College Test offers the ACT Aspire and the Pre-ACT that provide invaluable information for students as well as educators in preparation of the SAT and the ACT which often, in large part, determine college acceptance and scholarship dollars. "Triage" can also be performed on the data from the ACT and the SAT as both of these college entrance exams can be taken multiple times. Other data to be included in the Dashboard under this heading that would be used for future instructional decisions include the Advanced Placement Exams, International Baccalaureate Exams and CLEP (College Level Examination Program form the College Board). 
 

GRADUATION POINTS

The final element of the Dashboard is a grade 9-12 graduation tracking system called Graduation Points. This system keeps track of and provides warning alerts for all graduation requirement milestones throughout the students high school career. Graduation Points would monitor the completion of the 20 required credits for graduation as well as the requirements from the other three pathways to the diploma. This element would monitor the EOC points earned in the "Quest for 18". It would also earmark when students completed remedial free scores on the SAT or ACT. Finally, Graduation Points keeps track of industry credential requirements for those choosing the career pathway to a diploma.

The Academic Dashboard provides educators an entirely different look at the data that matters. Moreover, the "triage" concept allows us to intervene with the data immediately and make a positive impact on the academic experience of our students. If we don't embrace the concept of academic "triage" all we'll have left is an academic "autopsy"