Our Journey to a Data-Informed School Culture

What secondary school leaders can learn from the challenges and triumphs experienced by New York Public School 171

National education policy over the last decade has emphasized college- and career-ready standards. This translated to states and school systems exploring new ways to support students while reporting on accountability measures. At my school, New York PS 171, the focus on readiness sparked a journey into data-driven instruction.

As a school community, we knew we wanted to emphasize transparency and intentionality when setting goals while aligning to state standards. We decided that to achieve our school goals and support every student, faculty, and staff member, we needed to shift to a data-informed culture.

Through a shared understanding of effective instruction, a school-wide culture of data analysis, and continuous reflection, we’ve been able to create and refine a culture that empowers teachers in their roles and provides support to help students grow.

Effective Instruction

A focus on effective instruction influences every decision we make. Our administration and teachers work collaboratively to develop school goals that are aligned to the Framework for Great Schools, the New York Department of Education’s student achievement initiative.

The six elements of the Framework include:

  • Rigorous Instruction
  • Supportive Environment
  • Collaborative Teachers
  • Effective School Leadership
  • Strong Family-Community Ties
  • Trust

To adhere to these guidelines, we introduced new instructional frameworks for teachers and established systems that ensure learners receive appropriate supports to be successful.

The Danielson Group’s Framework for Teaching and Jim Knight’s A Framework for Great Teaching serve as the foundation for developing effective teaching practices at PS 171. Our school has developed a shared understanding of effective instruction through professional development, implementation of system-wide formal and informal observation cycles, school-wide instructional expectations, and school-wide culture of data analysis to inform instruction.

Data-Informed Instruction

It was challenging at first to get teachers to invest in data-driven instruction and see the value it adds to the learning process. Any change requires a balance of pushing innovation while being empathetic to the hesitations behind a new initiative.

Through ongoing conversations about our data analysis systems and routines, we’ve been able to establish a common understanding about the why’s and how’s of using data. We’ve mapped out professional development cycles that focus on how to effectively use data and how it relates to our school procedures. Also, some of our teachers have taken on leadership roles where they explore new ways to use data and share their findings with colleagues.

We created a resource booklet, “P.S. 171’s cycle of data-driven instruction,” that’s available to staff. Assessment, data organization and analysis, instructional planning, and student work analysis are covered in the guide, and it’s been a critical resource in helping teachers bridge instructional theory to data-driven practices.

To refine instruction, administrators and teachers review weekly, quarterly and growth performance reports from differentiated instruction platform Achieve3000 Literacy and Interim Assessment Results in ELA and math. We also perform a weekly formative assessment to gauge student progress on newly-introduced concepts.

All of these data points are translated into scaffolds for each student. Examples of provided supports include question stems, differentiation, technology resources, and adjustments to pacing and presentation in the classroom.

Our teachers also use assessment data to inform instruction and target specific standards or skills. Faculty members take ownership of their teaching and feel comfortable implementing elements of data to improve curricula as they learn more about each student.

Continual reflections and revision of curriculum and practices have had a positive impact on student learning. There’s ongoing reflection and identification of new ways to meet the diverse needs of our students. The process is ongoing as we strive for sustainability and improvement year to year. It is a process that requires refinement and reflection.

Striving for Improvement

Our school culture embodies three core values: open-mindedness, dedication, and commitment for all students, families, and staff. We’ve established a respectful and trusting environment that celebrates learning, sets high expectations, and meets the diverse needs of all learners academically, socially, and emotionally from PreK to eighth grade.

Through continuous review and improvement of our school goals, we’ve been able to create an environment where every student is provided support to prepare for the rigor and challenge of high school, college, and the workplace. This would be incredibly challenging without the systems and structures we have in place.

Data hasn’t only influenced our culture but has positively impacted our shared understanding of what defines effective practice, and the purpose behind it. Data opens the conversation between all stakeholders in our community. Teachers and families can engage constructively because there is a level of trust and collaboration built between school and home.

We’ve had several powerful conversations with teachers about our data analysis systems and routines and the way we think about our students' performance on assessments. We engage in an enriching item and error analysis during data conferences – these discussions directly impact the way instructional next steps are designed and implemented.

A data-driven culture is a continuous process and ongoing as we strive for improvement from year to year. It’s a process that requires refinement and reflection. Our students have proudly taken ownership of their academic journeys, and are more aware of their social and emotional well being.

Thanks to a data-driven culture, we’ve experienced a significant increase and improvement in teacher and student accountability. Teachers can still focus on the same set of standards and concepts but are also free to adjust the degree of complexity of curricula, without watering content down, according to student need.

Students are still provided objectives and expectations, but they are also empowered to use different platforms to apply their learning. Most importantly, thanks to the dedication and focus from our teachers, students are being met where they are and are empowered and encouraged to produce meaningful work.