Elementary Early Warning Indicators

The Early Warning Indicators research document from the ND State Longitudinal Data System’s team of researchers has been released for your information; it can be found for authenticated users via the blue question mark on the Student Snapshot report (this is the report sometimes referred to as the individual student view – it’s accessible by clicking on a student’s name once logged into the SLDS PK-12 reports).  For quick reference, I have also put the document as a link on the right side of this blog.  The research explains the Early Warning tab that has been added to the Student Snapshot report for grades 3-7.   A high school readiness probability of success score is available if the student has NDSA results in grades 3-8.


Data Governance

The North Dakota State Longitudinal Data System takes seriously its obligation to protect the privacy of data collected, used, shared, and stored.

A new tab has been added across the top of the SLDS site titled DATA GOVERNANCE.  This tab is accessible to ALL viewers of the SLDS – both public and authenticated.  The pages within the data governance tab contain state and federal policies the SLDS adheres to, data privacy and security procedures, as well as guidance and resources for various stakeholders.

I highly encourage you to read through the three different sections:


Differentiation Does, In Fact, Work

If you read nothing else today, please read the response written by Carol Ann Tomlinson for Education Weekly around the topic of differentiation in the classroom.

It is an absolute must read by all in this great profession.


Why do we always want to go straight to the end?

The other day, I heard a meaningful analogy from a wise and respected educator in this state.

“It’s like giving a fourth grader a calculator before they understand the process of long division.  Once they have done the work behind the scenes in their brain and know the what and why of the process, then a calculator becomes a valuable tool.  Before then, it actually is a hindrance.”

This was in reference to a discussion we were having at a SLDS workshop about how it’s necessary for each school to make their own plan for using data instead of looking to take someone else’s lead or looking to have it done for them.

So many times in education, I believe we look for the end – the tool – the quick fix – the magic pill – the what can be taken from someone else and used as our own – the end.  It’s common.  I understand why it happens; the atmosphere around education is fast, busy, and always changing.  It lends itself well to the mentality of simply “cross these items off the list.”  Our entire educational system is set up in a way that fosters the notion and belief in the end.  The end of the nine weeks, the end of the semester, the end of the school year – all of these train our brains to think in the manner of this too shall pass and be over so let’s just get it “done” for now.

When in reality, that kind of thinking is damaging to the very work that needs to be done.

The calculator will not teach a fourth grade student how to understand long division.

A data matrix made by me and handed to you will not teach you how to use data to impact instruction in your classroom.

A report ran by the SLDS will not teach your leadership team how to find trends and then analyze their meaning.

The process of getting to the end is where the learning and real magic happen.  It’s in the sitting down and hammering out exactly what makes sense for your district,  your school, your classroom, and your students because every single one of those subsets holds a unique set of answers – ones that can not be answered by outside sources.

I know that when I was a fourth grade classroom teacher, my most successful teaching moments came not from lessons I found somewhere and printed off, but rather came from me sitting down with my goals and knowledge of my own students to plan learning experiences that aligned with both.  My high-five worthy teaching experiences came when I went through the entire process of planning quality instruction myself.

Do the process and in turn, you will understand the process because you will have had to wrestle with the ins and outs to make the tool yourself.

Imagine if the students had the same mentality we tend to have when something new is thrown at us.  Imagine if they always wanted someone else to do the work for them so they could quickly get to the end.  Imagine if they wanted a ready made tool handed to them to put their name on and turn in to check off their list.  We wouldn’t go for that with our students; we shouldn’t go for that for ourselves either.

Five Steps for Structuring Data-Informed Conversations and Action in Education by the U.S. Department of Education (2013) is a useful and powerful resource to start the process of using data to impact instruction and make informed decisions.  It is not a quick fix, nor a magic pill; it’s definitely not the end.  It is, however, a framework to begin the discussions which need to happen to begin the process of truly understanding.

One Way to Use Data from the SLDS

A snippet from a SLDS 201 workshop…

Student Data Conversations

I say this frequently, “Nothing should be a secret to the student.  They are step number one in effectively using data.  If they don’t know why they are taking an assessment and what their results mean for their own learning, then we are defeating ourselves before we even start.  We can have the best plan in the world for changing our instruction based on the data, but if the students don’t know what the plan is and where it came from it won’t be effective.  Bottom line.  They are key.”

It’s one of my many soap boxes, this notion of actually involving the students in the wheel-like process of using data.  So, when I attended the session “Taking Charge of Student Data Conversations” at the National Learning Forward Conference in Nashville, I was nodding my head along the entire time.  The presenters were all from Metro Nashville Public Schools; Mary Larens Seely, Michele Young, and Arielle Sprotzer shared their expertise straight from the field as they all work with student data on a daily basis.

The book much of their inspiration comes from is Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Using it Well by Chappuis and Stiggins.  I have it on order now and can not wait to dig in to see what other knowledge can be gained and I encourage you to as well.

“Student involvement is the central shift needed in our traditional view of assessment’s role in teaching and learning…Students decide whether the learning is worth the effort required to attain it.  Students decide whether they believe they are capable of reaching learning targets.  Students decide whether to keep learning or quit working…”


–Chappuis & Stiggins

Flowers, Weeds, and Seeds

As I sit here on this icy Monday morning in North Dakota reflecting about my time spent last week in Nashville for the National Learning Forward Conference, there’s one theme that keeps coming to the forefront – improve.  All of the sessions I attended were focused around the notion of improving.  The context was changed for each, but the underlying principle remained.

Get better.  Do different.  Make changes.  Improve.

Hoffman-Boston Elementary School is a prime example of what can happen when an improvement mindset is truly in place at the administration, teacher, and student level.  Dr. Donna Snyder, along with Maria deOlazo, presented “Creating Conditions for Successful Student Improvement” about their time at Hoffman-Boston as the principal and literacy coach.   The first item they questioned, first of themselves and then of the entire staff, was which comes first when improving – culture or instruction? There’s an immense amount of research backing both stances, but both Snyder and deOlazo had a hunch there was something missing with the normal approach of picking one.

What they found after their successful time improving Hoffman-Boston was that truly one can’t come before the other, but rather they must happen simultaneously right alongside each other.  That is when true improving occurs.

The activity they worked through with the entire staff to start the process of identifying what was needed in their culture and instruction was “Flowers, Weeds, and Seeds.”  This simple, yet profound experience would work with many different types of organizations.  The basic premise is to have everyone brainstorm their list of flowers (current successes), weeds (strategies or items to reduce or eliminate as they are no longer beneficial), and seeds (new initiative ideas).  Once everyone has individually defined their own set of beliefs in all three categories, Dr. Snyder brought them together to have a frank and honest conversation.

This really stuck out to me as something that is needed at the very base level of improving.  We must first be able to admit defeat in areas, celebrate success in others, and not be afraid to come up with new ideas to take us to the next level.  Start today in any area of your life.  Draw three boxes on a piece of paper and label each one with flowers, weeds, and seeds.  Let your brain turn off, don’t think too much, and see what comes about.

Then, work to do something to improve.