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Prior to COVID-19, education leadership team members from Santa Ana USD would regularly meet in person for a “Data Espresso” — an informal session that encourages finding patterns in data.
How to get ‘unstuck’ from the learning loss conversation
5 ways to turn COVID-19 learning losses into gains
January 25, 2021
For months, education researchers have warned about COVID-19 learning loss from distance learning. Ten months into the pandemic, districts are now seeing the first data to support the COVID slide: a rise in failing grades during the first trimester. The trick to addressing student needs is getting stakeholders “unstuck” from the learning loss conversation, according to leaders in two school districts.
“Educators have a moral obligation: Once we have the data, what do we do with it?” said Emily Wolk, Ph.D., executive director of Research & Evaluation in the Santa Ana Unified School District.
Wolk and Kasey Klappenback, assistant superintendent of elementary education in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, recently presented at ACSA’s Leadership Summit on strategies districts can use to better understand their data and then act upon it.
Right now, many schools don’t have enough data, partly because they were not required to administer standardized assessments last spring due to the shift to distance learning. That’s why Pajaro Valley USD had students complete virtual assessments when they returned to distance learning in the fall.
“Just the thought of virtual assessments seemed like a great challenge to teachers and administrators alike,” said Klappenback, who was resolute that his district’s students took the assessments in order to understand what their learning needs are.
Below, Wolk and Klappenback describe five strategies that educators can employ to turn COVID learning loss into gains.
1. Hold a Data Espresso
We have started inviting administrators and teachers to casual chats about data in the afternoons which we call “Data Espresso.” This has been a successful change idea to make the examination of data an informal, yet highly effective, process. Though we could only offer a virtual “cup of Joe” and a virtual cookie these days, the idea remains the same: Share a few carefully selected graphs or charts and present simple, nonthreatening questions to encourage your colleagues to look for patterns in their data.
For example, this year we noticed an increase in the D and F rate at certain grade levels. We selected a couple of data dashboards within our existing data system, the percentage of D/Fs by grading periods comparing last year to this year. We asked, “What do you notice? What differences do you see from year to year and subject to subject? What do you notice across the various grades?”
As educators, our natural instinct is often to jump quickly to interpretation or providing solutions, but it is important to slow ourselves down, gain perspective by seeing trends across the district, and first discuss what we “see” in the data. This low-prep activity has provided our educators with the time and space to examine data and help identify more targeted and appropriate next steps with data driving the decision-making.
2. Have Data Chats
Another way that educators can get “unstuck” from the learning loss conversation is by holding short, informal discussions for data review and reflection — a data chat. Though challenging, obtaining data to identify students’ current achievement levels and, more importantly, the skills and knowledge that they are ready to learn may be even more crucial than ever. But, most importantly, educators need opportunities to provide their personal insights on how students are performing, what they are struggling with and is needed to move them past the “stuck” point. Data chats can be held at a school, class or student level. They can be held with administrators, teachers or with students. A Data Chat could include the following:
  • Review the overall progress. In our case, we are able to review students’ progress using multiple achievement and growth scores across the years.
  • During this time, highlight the new baseline for learning recovery opportunities. Focus on “So now what?” reflection.
  • Prioritize standards and use of small group and whole group instruction.
  • Engage students by seeking what they are struggling with or what they might need to help them understand better.
  • Praise students for their efforts across multiple areas: attendance, mindset, attitude, completion of assignments, etc.
  • Set a goal (see individual goal setting) and what specific activities administrators, teachers, parents and students will do to support their progress.
3. Create a Data Reflection Plan
Creating a Data Reflection Plan is a significant step to assist educators to get unstuck. A Data Reflection Plan focuses on concrete next steps based on the data reviewed during a Data Chat. The administrator creates and implements a plan with input from their site leadership team on how they will address successes and challenges, barriers, and concerns from the fall assessment. Questions that could be asked:
  • What will the site do to increase participation during the next assessment window?
  • How will communication be improved to parents, teachers and students?
  • How will teachers be supported in preparing students and ensuring devices are prepared ahead of time?
  • How will data be shared and used with the staff to improve and prioritize areas of instruction?
  • How will MTSS resources be utilized and prioritized?
  • How will student goal setting be modified during distance learning or hybrid format to maximize time and impact?
4. Set goals
This may involve individual or collaborative groups of administrators, teachers and/or students that are both meaningful and realistic. This year, meaningful goals may be aligned to learning recovery; however, during normal circumstances, goals may align with meeting state standards or preparedness for college. Realistic goals could be based on normed scores or the likelihood of reaching them within a set timeframe. The ultimate goal is finding the right balance between what is meaningful and what is practical.
“[Data Espressos have] provided our educators with the time and space to examine data and help identify more targeted and appropriate next steps ...”
Our districts use NWEA MAP Growth assessments, which help us determine what is typical performance for students at a particular grade level and subject area. MAP Growth also indicates what goals are too aggressive or not aggressive enough to accelerate their growth. NWEA’s Student Profile Report helps teachers, students and parents to visualize student growth across time. It is also interactive. It will suggest a typical growth target that can be adjusted to reflect a “stretch” or “catch up” goal. It also provides a place for the teacher to jot down notes of the supports or activities that the student, teacher or parent are committed to accomplishing in order to support learning goals. During this period, NWEA provides learning recovery data which can be used to identify how much growth is necessary to recover learning that was lost this past spring due to school closures.
5. Try Plan-Do-Study-Act
“Plan-Do-Study-Act” (also known as an improvement science cycle) involves trying out a small, simple idea to see if it works, observing the results and acting on what is learned. During COVID, educators and the resources available to them are stretched thin, so proceeding with any change can be fraught with challenges. That said, the ideas presented above most likely build on existing practices and provide a path that, in the end, can save time and maximize impact.
This cycle can then be implemented by individual teachers or grade levels, and their data or learning artifacts can be shared with site staff and replicated if found to be effective.
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