Schools with large Latino populations beat the odds with use of data

Teacher Helping Boy With SchoolworkIn Arizona, where 25% of the population is Latino, the low achievement and low graduation rates of Latino students is a pressing public policy issue.

A report from the Center for the Future of Arizona and the Morrison Institute for Public Policy (Why Some Schools With Latino Children Beat The Odds…and Others Don’t) identifies 12 elementary and middle schools with large Latino and impoverished populations in Arizona that are performing  better than expected based on student test scores.

The 12 schools were selected based on a review of eight years of data on test results from third-grade reading and eighth-grade math. The report examines what these schools are doing differently than matched schools with similar demographics and singles out  six “elements of success.”

One of the key characteristics of the selected schools is their disciplined use of data, according to Why Some Schools With Latino Children Beat The Odds…and Others Don’t. Use of data is embedded in these schools and pre-dates the mandates of the No Child Left Behind accountability provisions, the report says.

“Forget what you’ve heard about all schools hating performance metrics and resisting accountability,” the report states. “The 12 beat-the-odds schools provide riveting evidence that principals and teachers in successful schools embrace regular assessments as a way of identifying problems sooner and understanding them much more clearly.”

“There is much, much more to the data analysis than simply looking at the aggregate test scores and exit exams at the end of the year, when it’s too late to solve problems,” the report continues. “Principals and teachers are collecting and poring over many metrics and measurements They are doing it over and over, often every week or every month, to make sure they are catching problems as they arise.”

The schools not only look at aggregate data, but also disaggregated data that considers each classroom, each teacher, and each student. Their self-audit tools vary but they use them to make problems visible, and to use this knowledge to improve student outcomes, the report says.

“These principals and teachers are, essentially, doing ‘root cause’ analysis — working backward through the data to pinpoint deficiencies in the ‘inputs’ — curriculum, teachers, etc. — and taking steps to immediately correct defects in practices,” the report says.

Here are examples of how “beat-the-odds” schools are using data:

Alice Byrne Elementary school in Yuma uses the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) system, a Web-based database offered by the Arizona Department of Education, which allows schools to enter their data on-line and generate automated reports.

Benchmark testing, which monitors each student’s literacy and reading skills, is conducted three times per year, while progressive monitoring is used every two-to-three weeks or at the teacher’s discretion. Progressive monitoring is especially important for the children whose performance is labeled “falling below” or “approaching” because it helps the teacher determine appropriate interventions.

Orange Grove Elementary school, also in the Yuma area, conducts benchmark assessments every week. Teacher teams meet weekly to discuss what the assessments are telling them about every student. The meetings follow an agenda and discussions are documented to provide even more data about the progress of each child, what is working, and what isn’t working.

Gallego Elementary school in Tucson uses monthly assessment tools in the Morrison-McCall Vocabulary Test and the McCall-Crabbs Test of Reading Comprehension. Each teacher turns in class and student reports every week to the principal, who reviews them to see that clear objectives have been met. Also, progress reports go to parents starting the 5th week of school, rather than after the 1st quarter.

Wade Carpenter school in Nogales began focusing on data in 1998 to identify areas of concern. Under the Saxon Math program, with quarterly testing by the Northwest Evaluation Association, students chart their own performance and their strengths and weaknesses in different areas. Students take the tests online and get their results in 24 hours. Students take ownership of the testing.

Teachers use the results to plan instruction on the content  that students need help with, and to place them in homogeneous groups. The border school with almost 100 percent Spanish-speaking and impoverished students has improved its test score by almost 20 percentage points, to come close to the state average, and significantly beat its predicted scores two years in a row.

Six factors that drive gains for schools with Latino children

The Center for the Future of Arizona and the Morrison Institute for Public Policy worked with business guru Jim Collins, author of  Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t to identify schools with large Latino and impoverished populations that are performing better than expected based on 8 years of test results.

Researchers  interviewed key administrators and teachers in the schools and identified the  six “elements of success” below that are responsible for driving gains in student achievement:

Disciplined thought
Clear bottom line–schools emphasize the achievement of every student in every classroom and take responsibility for that performance.

Ongoing assessment–frequent in-school assessments to spot problems early and drive improvement.

Disciplined people
Strong and steady principal–a leader who focuses on improving schools and perseveres no matter what the roadblocks.

Collaborative solutions–problem solving is pushed throughout the ranks and not concentrated in a few people at the top.

Disciplined action
Stick with the program–successful schools choose one good program and stick with it.

Built to suit–intervention is personalized so it suits each student’s needs.
To obtain a copy  of the report from the Center for the Future of Arizona and the Morrison Institute for Public Policy go to:

Published in ERN February 2007 Volume 20 Number 2

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