Traci Stanley is the director of Quality Assurance for Christopher House, a charter school in Chicago serving children from low-income homes, from birth through high school.
With the increased focus on accountability and the speed of technology to process information, our classrooms are flooded with data. From standardized test results to social-emotional assessments, the amount of information we have to work with can sometimes be overwhelming. So, does having more data produce better results?
I believe it can, but not without a sufficient infrastructure to support our teachers and our students. Making the data really work for your teachers requires leadership investment, professional development, standardized processes, and I believe, for it to be most effective, collaboration with others dedicated to the same approach.
For 10 years, Christopher House has been leading the Chicago Benchmarking Collaborative (CBC) – created to leverage collective impact and maximize our work around data-based instruction and evaluation. The CBC is a voluntary network, tracking educational outcomes across seven organizations. It is also a learning community, in which we borrow effective practices and instructional strategies from one another and participate in shared professional development and improvement planning. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the CBC, Christopher House and Boeing have recently published a how-to guide, "Increasing Mission Impact Through Collaboration: Chicago Benchmarking Collaborative Processes and Toolkit." This guide details how we have made data and peer collaboration work to improve student achievement.
Whether you are considering partnering across schools in your district, or classrooms in your building, the CBC toolkit can provide guidance on how to effectively facilitate collaborative evaluation. The guide breaks down the collaborative process into four crucial stages.
- Establish a shared vision and goals. Collaboration is time intensive. To make sure all partners get out what they put in, it is important to create shared goals and language. Not every potential partner we talked to decided to join the CBC and that was okay. We carefully selected partners with shared vision and goals to keep the CBC moving forward.
- Build capacity for data use and collaborative learning. This stage is about making sure all the right systems and staff are in place to ensure the shared goals and vision established in stage one are achieved. For the CBC, this stage included identifying a project facilitator and a project team with defined roles. We also utilized external consultants to help identify what to measure, how to measure it, and how to finance collaborative program evaluation.
- Use data and improve collaborative practice. You’ve probably been required to load tons of data into systems, but how often was that data made to work for you? The goal here is to make data a tool rather than a weight. In addition to improving reporting systems for individual teachers and schools, staff members began meeting across sites to review regular data reports, identify practices that were improving student outcomes and create professional development strategies for target growth areas.
- Sustain and institutionalize systems. At this stage, the collaborative is up and running, your systems are in place, and you want to keep them alive and fresh to create sustained impact. This includes continuing to build trust among partners, developing strategic goals for the future and creating training systems to onboard new staff. It may also mean developing processes to onboard new partners.
“When we share data across classrooms, or with other schools, a certain level of trust is required,” says Kristin Novy, principal of Christopher House Elementary School. “Developing that trust and vulnerability takes time, but the pay-off in terms of better instructional practice is well worth the investment.”
What it looks like in practice
Once a shared vision, trust and processes are established, the work of data-sharing can begin. The chart below shows an aggregated data report, representing all participating agencies’ performance on literacy outcomes. Each agency was also provided a similar chart comparing their results to their peer organizations.
In the example report below, the data revealed that scholars’ literacy growth was trending lower than expected across organizations. The blue bands represent widely held expectations for student achievement. Scholars growth fell at or below midpoint for several learning objectives. This was an opportunity for several schools to work together to address a shared challenge.
With a common goal to increase scores to the top half of the blue bands for all partners, the group developed a collective strategy for improvement, including literacy-based SMART goals. It compiled effective data-sharing practices to increase teachers’ abilities to use data to inform lesson plans. A curriculum training was also provided by the organization that scored highest in literacy achievement.
All partners were invited to participate, creating a cost-savings of collaborative evaluation and program improvement as well as a professional development opportunity for the organizations leading the training. As a result of these collaborative efforts, schools saw a 14% increase in children’s literacy assessment scores.
More examples and more information on how we developed a culture that was open to data exchange and community learning can be found in our how-to guide. The publication of the guide was made possible by a grant from Boeing Global Engagement, which recognized the CBC’s effective approach to collaborative learning and funded the guide to help other schools and organizations replicate this successful model to increase their own impact.