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Winter 2012

The Data Wise Project

There's no lack of data in the San Antonio Independent School District. Middle school principal Yesenia Cordova has data from Texas' statewide accountability tests, the district's own system, and the weekly common assessments that are benchmarked to the state tests, as well as marks given by classroom teachers on homework and quizzes.

But with all those numbers, she couldn't figure out how they could inform this dilemma: The math scores at Edgar Allan Poe Middle School had stagnated at 72 percent proficiency for three years. She was determined to make progress among the one in four middleschoolers who wasn't making the grade in a school whose population is 90 percent Hispanic and 94 percent economically disadvantaged.

In June 2010, Cordova came to the Harvard Graduate School of Education with an assistant principal and math teacher from Poe Middle School to participate in a weeklong Data Wise workshop, in which educators learn an eight-step process that includes collaboration, data analysis, and an action plan. It's a project that began in 2001, when Professor Richard Murnane spent a year with the Boston Public Schools to improve the district's methods for understanding assessment data. This past summer, the San Antonio group joined educator teams from Farmington, Conn.; Denver; Cambridge, Mass.; Chile; and Australia at the weeklong session.

Through the process, Cordova realized that the school's eighthgrade teachers planned together, but the sixth- and seventh-grade teachers did not.

"It allowed us to be reflective about the data and to look at it without being judgmental," says Cordova. "It allowed us to dig deep and find the root cause of our problem. We needed to know if it was truly a learner problem or if it was a problem with our practice, in how we were delivering the lessons."

To increase collaboration, Cordova brought together math teachers for all three levels. They agreed to plan together, teach the same material, and have common assessments each week to determine student progress. Teachers modeled instruction for each other and tweaked the curriculum to address problem areas. By year's end, 80 percent of Poe's students were proficient in math.

"We changed our school culture into one that focused on teacher collaboration and looking at the right data," says Cordova. "We weren't just looking at the numbers. We were also looking at our teaching practice, and it paid off."

Lecturer Kathryn Boudett, director of the Data Wise Project, says the eight-step process provides a roadmap for educators looking to make meaningful change, based on what the data shows. The project has added four online classes so the groups can share what they've found since returning to their schools.

"We give homework about digging into the data," she says. "With this work, you just can't learn it in one setting. You have to learn it by doing it."