Flip Your Thinking About Assessments

3571102858_2e511c605f_oWhat can you learn from a test before seeing your results? That’s the question that ANet founder John Maycock challenges educators to think about in this recent post. Don’t get us wrong, as a data company, we believe in the power of measurable outcomes. But it’s important for all of us to remember that the purpose of tests isn’t to produce test scores, it’s to validate the difficult and nuanced work of teachers and students prior to the test.

Toward that end, Maycock suggests that teachers take the same assessments that they administer to their students—not to measure their outcomes, but to more intimately understand what the assessments are actually testing. By doing so, teachers may be able to advance their own understanding of certain standards and make better instructional decisions for their students.
Read on to learn what else you can do to “flip” your thinking about assessments.

5 strategies to make your school system more “data-ready”

rep370180_349066_1423610272039-845x684For the last two years, I’ve been a data engineer at Schoolzilla, and currently spend my days helping to define the technical vision for our achievement products.  Prior to joining the team here, I worked in Research and Evaluation at the KIPP Foundation across the Bay in San Francisco, supporting KIPP schools around the country to turn data into insight, and insight into action.  My experiences at both KIPP and Schoolzilla have  led me to think a lot about how school systems can get the most out of their work with data.  Here are my top tips for school systems looking to become more “data-ready”.

1. Start with goals.
Data is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Your school or district won’t get much out of stronger data practices if it isn’t already goal-driven. Do your teachers, parents, and students have a growth mindset? Are SMART goals being set on a regular basis organization wide.

2. Lead with questions, not metrics.
“Are our students climbing the mountain to and through college?” It’s far easier to hook someone with a question that they care about than by showing them a table or chart that reports a metric. That was a key learning that led to the formulation of KIPP’s Six Essential Questions.

If you ask a good question, then you’ll likely have someone asking you for the data to answer that question. If you start with a bag of metrics, you probably see eyes glaze over. Also, a thoughtful, mission-driven question will outlast a well-designed metric. Metrics may change as the specific thing to measure—or the best way to measure it—evolves as you make progress towards that overarching goal.

3. Think about the data you wish you had, rather than the data you already have.
Just because you have data on a particular dimension, doesn’t mean rep370180_349066_1423609909558-845x684it should be integrated or presented. As an example, data that has very little variability across classrooms or over time isn’t going to be very useful. You may not be able to easily collect or measure the data that would be ideal for your organization, but it’s important to have a clear vision of what that would look like so that you can always be moving toward it.

4. Invest in systems that play nice.
Some companies build walled gardens; others make it easy to get your data out. If you want to get the most of your data, you’ll need to have a scalable, automated way to get it out of systems.

  • Are external student IDs a part of the exports or does the vendor only include a unique student identifier that is used in that product?
  • Do the data exports include everything you care about or do they only contain a small subset of the data in the system?
  • Are they structured and formatted in a way that will be easy to use?
  • Does the product have a CSV export? What about an API or an automated file drop?

5. Start narrow in terms of audience and scope.
The dream is all your data in one place, presented in a way that is perfectly tailored to each stakeholder. The reality is that it’s close to impossible to accomplish that all at once and the path to the “data-driven dream” is smoother if you start by serving a particular audience especially well. Further, you’ll learn things along the way that will move the goalposts anyway. Time is our most important resource and it’s better to cater to one group of stakeholders really well, than all stakeholders somewhat poorly. It’s better to really nail the collection, organization, presentation and use of one domain of data when you’re starting out, rather than trying to shoot the moon.

Q&A with Caroline Galindo: What you need to know about this year’s Data Champion Summit!

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Caroline Galindo Impact Team Lead, Schoolzilla

In less than two months, Data Champions nationwide will join us in Berkeley, CA for this year’s Data Champion Summit. What makes this the perfect opportunity for K-12 data enthusiasts, and how does this year’s summit differ from last years? Caroline Galindo, Impact Team Lead for Schoolzilla, shares all the important details.

Q: What is a Data Champion and what makes a great one?
A: Data Champions are the people in school systems who collect data; make sure data is clean; cull insight from data; and share that insight with the appropriate stakeholders. Any of those pieces can be a huge job—it’s why Schoolzilla exists, and it’s why Data Champions rarely work alone.

Great Data Champions work hard to stay focused on their stakeholders’ needs, and by extension, their students. They understand that strong relationships are just as important as their technical and number skills—they’re what helps them understand stakeholders’ goals and questions. It takes an incredibly wide range of skills to be a great Data Champion, and we are constantly inspired by the folks in our community.

Q: The theme of this year’s Data Champion Summit is “Better Together”. Can you share what this theme means to Schoolzilla and for attendees?
A: “Better Together” is one of Schoolzilla’s core values. We know we can achieve greater success when working together; that’s why we’re committed to collaborating within teams, across teams, and with school systems.

“Better Together” also reflects what we’ve learned over time from our great Data Championsthat culling actionable, transformative insights from data is a system-wide effort. Data evolves when Data Champions, CAOs, Grade Level Leads, Superintendents, etc., work together to have data-informed conversations based on a deep understanding of how people work, as well as their questions, priorities, and goals.

Data Champion Summit ‘16 provides the opportunity for Data Champions to collaborate, learn new skills, and gather resources to foster a data-driven culture.

Q: For returning Data Champion Summit attendees, what new sessions are available that weren’t offered last year?
A: We’ve been working hard to develop new content for this year’s Data Champion Summit. Our New Tableau sessions teach folks everything they need to know about Tableau 9. Our Product sessions include Interventions Data Block and Zillametrics (neither existed last year!). And in the spirit of Better Together, we’ve also added a Leadership strand specifically designed with system influencers in mind, as well as a Deep Dives strand around specific content areas to help answer the key question: “I have all this data and insight, but now what?”.

Q: What excites you most about the 2016 Data Champion Summit?
A: Rarely do we have the opportunity to have all of our Data Champions in one place. With a vast network of Data Champions and leaders at this year’s DSC, we’re thrilled about the opportunity to facilitate connections. We also have quite a few former Data Champions at Schoolzilla, and it’s been really fun to create a conference that our former (and current!) selves would love. We can’t wait to hear about what you think of this year’s Data Champion Summit (and if you’re not registered, there’s still time, just click here).