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Superintendent's Message

Gauging Progress in the GPS – Take One
William S. McKersie, PhD
Superintendent of Schools
December 1, 2014 

 Background

The Greenwich Public Schools released a Request for Proposal on November 18, 2014 seeking an external partner to develop a data warehouse, performance dashboard, balanced assessment system, and value-added student growth model.  Proposals are due on December 19, 2014, with the decision on the final selection of an external partner scheduled for January 26, 2015. 

I am devoting the December Superintendent’s Essay to the significance of the Data System RFP and selection of an external partner.  This essay draws substantially on the RFP document.  I consider this essay “Take One” in what will be a series of essays over the coming year addressing our move to ratchet up the rigor and coherence of the GPS’s system and practices for gauging student progress. 

District Theory of Action and Problem Statement

Tight progress monitoring is one of the hallmarks of schools and districts that are accelerating learning and successfully closing gaps in achievement.  The most effective approach is to monitor student achievement and growth.  The District is firmly committed to using data to drive instruction.  All professional staff are members of data teams that systematically evaluate available student performance data, develop short term improvement plans, implement those plans and monitor improvement.  We believe data-based continuous improvement cycles are essential to improving student achievement.  

We have learned, however, that our data and information systems are not optimal. The recent school equity study conducted by the Connecticut Center for School Change found that teachers did not have easy access to longitudinal records of student achievement necessary to monitor student growth and provide information to drive instruction.  While some achievement data is available, it is not readily accessible.  Our data warehouse and its access ports are no longer widely accessible or user-friendly. In addition, the District lack’s a balanced assessment system—our current assessments limit ability to monitor student growth from grade to grade or subject to subject. Over the past year, we have been reviewing the quality and sequence of student assessments and have implemented the first phase in a comprehensive assessment system (K-12), but it requires more development. 

Value-added student growth models have become the gold-standard for understanding student progress.  The most valid and reliable growth models incorporate data from multiple points on individual students in a planned fashion.  Defined simply, a student growth model in Greenwich would be based on a balanced assessment system and produce a specific outcome measure for each GPS student based on his or her past performance.  The specific student growth results can be aggregated to provide the basis for evaluating the effectiveness of educators, programs and schools, and help guide policy, practice and resource decisions. 

Providing classroom teachers with student performance data clearly is the priority.  In addition, the District must increase its capacity to gather, connect and report data and information on student demographics and achievement, school policies and practices, personnel and budgets. We require a performance dashboard that is designed to provide multiple constituents (teachers, administrators, Board of Education Members, parents and the public) with the data and information necessary to readily understand the successes and challenges faced by the District. 

Seeking an External Partner

Central to our theory of action is an external partner who can work collaboratively with the District. Our successes and struggles with data management and analysis have prompted us to turn to an expert agency with proven educational, analytical, research and technical capacity.  School districts of similar size and resource levels to Greenwich have benefited from establishing long-term relationships with external agencies who take on full responsibility for developing and managing state-of-the-art data and information systems.  The best external agencies in the data and information arena have far more research, analytical and technical capacity than a district such as Greenwich can afford to have on their own staff.

The external partner would be retained over multiple years. The first step for the external partner will be to conduct an audit of existing data systems, assessments and practices.  We want to be sure to develop a new system that retains, and where necessary modifies, what is working, but organized it into a coherent, integrated whole.

The data warehouse should incorporate several features:

•      Cloud-based and secure,

•      Accessible on desktop and mobile platforms either through the web, or native apps

•      Integrate and store data from a variety of systems including Aspen, RTI Direct, and Schoology,

•      Capable of direct data import and export, especially for teachers,

•      Analytics exportable to Excel, and

•      Flexible reporting that is customizable by user.

The performance dashboard must be capable of providing web-based access to data and information while generating reports and analyses promptly.  The dashboard should provide access to data by subject, student, teacher, grade, school and district—in keeping with the following attributes:

•      Graphically displays a variety of data types including: absolute level of achievement, level of achievement adjusted for student need, student academic growth incorporating data from a growth model developed and managed by the partner, achievement gap closure among designated student subgroups, graduation rates, postsecondary and career readiness, and assessment sub scores; 

•      Sets performance targets based on grade level standards and projected “catch up” targets for students performing below standard,

•      Aligns to metrics tracked by the District Strategic Plan,

•      Allows for disaggregation by all federally mandated student subgroups,

•      Capability for tracking custom subgroups (groups of students or classes), and

•      Benchmarking against other students, classes, school, and districts.

At the core of the data warehouse and performance dashboard must be a value-added growth model for each student.  The external partner will guide the District on the reliability and validity of the assessments and metrics used to track student achievement and growth, the rigor and relevance of program performance reports and a methodology for evaluating the effectiveness of new programs and initiatives. 

The external partner will be selected by an evaluation team under my direction, which will include Irene Parisi, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Learning; Phil Dunn, Chief Information Officer; Jill Flood, Principal, North Street School; Kathy Coon, Special Education Coordinator; and, John Curtin, Special Projects Director.  The external partner must demonstrate extensive expertise and experience in developing and managing data warehouses, performance dashboards, balanced assessment systems, and student value-added growth models with public schools and school boards.  The evaluation team will need to see a timeline of what is deliverable, when and by whom, as well as evidence of the capacity and capability of the consultant to perform the work on schedule, including the number of hours each consultant will dedicate to the project at each step.  We will want to learn about similar projects the potential partner has conducted with comparable school districts, including their ability to form successful working relationships and to communicate effectively with a wide-range of interested parties.

In Sum

For Greenwich to truly gauge student progress with rigor and coherence, we have to refashion our data and information systems.  We need a data warehouse and performance dashboard, tied to a balanced assessment system, all of which is rooted in a value-added student growth model.  And, to optimize the talents and skills of GPS professional staff, we require an external partner with which we can collaborate over multiple years.  I look forward to reporting on the progress of identifying an external partner and our shared work in the development and management of a state-of-the-art system for monitoring and reporting on student, educator, school and district performance. 

 END

December 1, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Gauging Progress in the GPS – Take One

November 3, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Lots of Industry...Lots of Product - Part II

October 7, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Lots of Industry...Lots of Product - Part I

September 2, 2014, Superintendent's Message: Our Signature: Achievement and Caring

November 27, 2013, Superintendent's Thanksgiving Day Message

November 12, 2013, The Roots of Excellence

September 26, 2013, Letter to Greenwich Public School Families on our Call to Action and Strategic Focus 

September 11, 2013 Letter to Greenwich Public School Families on Safe School Climate

September 3, 2013 Letter to Greenwich Public School Families on Safe School Climate

April 25, 2012, Superintendent of Schools Appointment Announcement

Resume for William S. McKersie (April 2012)



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