Saving Students From Falling Through Cracks
Schools are using techniques that help identify kids who are getting off track before they fall too far behind.
Local schools are collecting lots of information on students--from how they do on tests from week to week to what their attendance is like.
They're using the abundance of data to keep very close tabs on how kids doing in school. If a student starts having trouble, teachers realize that quickly and get that student help--such as learning support during study hall--to help the student grasp the material.
“We have all kinds of data available to us,” said Anne Roloff, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in neighboring Niles Township High School District 219. “Demographics, attendance, discipline records, grades, test scores.”
Roloff said that the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act helped changed the way districts look at data, but so did the “response to intervention” requirements that are part of a special education law. Response to intervention requires schools to document the steps they take to help when students are falling behind, and what the result of the help will be.
That process has led to more students getting back on track before failing a course, she said.
But the district looks at all kinds of data to see where it can do better, with administrators attending a “data retreat” before the school year starts to see what connections they can make.
Data helped kids become more college-ready
Looking at the data helped administrators see that students who were in basic-level (one level below the regular level) English and math classes as freshmen were almost never “college ready” according to their ACT scores as juniors, Roloff said. That’s because the students in those classes almost never moved up to regular-level classes, and the basic classes simply did not include everything students need to be ready for college. That led the district to eliminate basic-level freshman math this year and move towards eliminating basic-level English.
“What we found was that we were really doing these kids a disservice,” she said.
Students who would have been placed in basic-level classes instead take the regular class with extra support offered in a second class period. Early results from freshman algebra have been good, administrators said at a January school board meeting, although a few students still are failing.
All students take the same final test
But the students who are getting it are really getting it, she said. That’s demonstrated with District 219’s use of a common final exam, meaning, for example, that all the district’s algebra students in both schools take the same final test to make sure they have mastered the material.
The test also tells the district where there are weaknesses in its curriculum, Roloff said, so teachers can adjust the way they teach. The teachers themselves are also working together more to support one another and share their strengths, Roloff said.
While using data to drive decisions is a hot trend at the moment, administrators said, educators have always done it to some extent. The use of data has expanded in part because laws like No Child Left Behind have demanded that schools provide data they never had before, and in part because the use of technology has made it easier for everyone to share.
“That’s really been a positive piece of this,” Roloff said.