Using Data-Driven Instruction and SEL to Make the Most of Assessments
Beaumont, Texas, is in my DNA. My family has been here since the 1800s, when the area was mainly devoted to cattle ranching and rice milling, through the great Spindletop oil discovery, which was the first major oil field and the largest in American history. We have so many great opportunities in our area, including Exxon Mobil, Lamar University, and Lamar Institute of Technology right in our own backyard. At Beaumont ISD, we must prepare our students to take advantage of these amazing opportunities.
Beaumont ISD is a district of more than 18,000 students, with 80 percent of our students coded as economically disadvantaged. Our diverse student population has a high mobility rate, so a number of our students move from school to school during the year based on family financial situations. As other districts experiencing these factors know, this presents a variety of challenges to the fidelity and cohesiveness of instruction. Our solution is a combination of strong data-driven instruction and social-emotional learning (SEL).
Like all districts in Texas, we live and die through accountability ratings based on how our students perform on the state’s STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) tests. We align our assessments with the rigor of that state test, but as I always tell my teachers in training, if you just have one piece of data, you only have one corner of a picture. To get the complete picture, we have to look at multiple valid, reliable sources of data.
To this end, we began using Renaissance Star Assessments districtwide in the 2015–2016 school year. We screen all K–8 grade students in reading, math, or early literacy at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. Additionally, we progress-monitor Tier III students at checkpoints throughout the year to track growth. We use the information from screening to ensure that our students have the most appropriate placements for their needs, to design targeted tutorials based on their domain scores, and as a critical part of appropriately differentiating instruction within the classroom.
In the past couple of years, we have also implemented a scripted data-driven instruction (DDI) protocol to guide conversations that we hold in our professional learning communities (PLCs). For example, a campus administrator or an instructional leader will bring together fourth-grade math teachers, pull up students’ data, and discuss it together. Where did the kids go right? Where did they go wrong? Why did they have gaps in learning or misunderstand the concept?
When we see a weakness in those DDI conversations, we script out what we’re going to do to rectify these gaps in the PLC. We ensure a deep dive into the “why” and the “how” with the teachers and instructional staff, determining the approaches, probing questions, and instructional delivery we will use to ensure student mastery of the missed concept. We lay out what resources we will use and exactly when we can expect it to be done. There's no ambiguity, and no one says, “We'll catch it in the next round of testing or the end of the grading period.” All leave with a plan in place to follow.
We also require our teachers to have one-on-one goal-setting conferences with every second- through eighth-grade student at least once every grading period. To check progress toward those goals, our district reading program uses Accelerated Reader to monitor independent reading, support the self-selection of appropriately leveled reading material, and foster a growth mindset.
Additionally, we use that same data to support district-wide Read-A-Thons several times throughout the year. We report on student progress to boost the competition among campuses, and at the end of the Read-A-Thon, we award a King and Queen of Reading in each grade cluster of every elementary and middle school campus. Campuses earn recognition banners to post in their reception area, business partners provide prizes, and our recognized students receive books to add to their home libraries. This has fostered an exponential increase in independent reading among our students.
Beaumont ISD has also made a big push toward having students track their own data. We produce data folders where students actually graph their work in reading, math, and writing at least every one to two weeks. If they’re tracking what they have accomplished on a tracking form that they put their hands on, they’re much more likely to see areas where they need to improve. We have found this practice truly engages students in their own learning and academic success.
Closing the achievement gaps in our district takes more than evaluating and acting on data, though. It’s also essential that we build relationships with our students. Forging those personal connections gives students the emotional stability they need to focus on learning; plus, having a strong relationship with their teachers also makes them more much more open to that instruction.
In a high poverty district like Beaumont, you have attendance issues. You have struggles with parent involvement. You have trouble with kids rectifying their own behaviors so they are appropriately able to grasp the learning. To bring social-emotional learning in to impact these issues, we implemented the Sanford Harmony program in every K–5 classroom in the district.
Each day, they have SEL time to model practices and have conversations that tie back to the goals they have set for themselves. Our teachers create a nonthreatening atmosphere that inspires reflection through these discussions. They encourage students to ask themselves questions such as “What can I do better? What did I miss? What missteps did I make that led to me not achieving, and how can I rectify that in the future?” The Sanford Harmony activities also foster strong, positive student-student and student-teacher relationships.
Even with our youngest students, teachers work on setting SMART goals—meaning that they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Setting those goals and holding themselves accountable for the goals is so much more powerful than having someone else set the goals for them.
When I look at some of our students, I can see that they have been through a lot at a young age. Some come with little or no family structure. We have young students who are responsible for the care of their younger siblings. We see students come to us from homes of abuse and neglect. It is a privilege to serve the students and parents of this community and for the Beaumont ISD team to work together to improve their current situations, striving to provide every opportunity available for our students that will result in breaking the cycle of poverty.
About the Author
Jenny Angelo is the Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Beaumont ISD. Not only has she spent decades in service of the district as a classroom teacher and coach, but she was also born and raised in the community. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.