McKinney Texas – Building a Data Culture to Promote Academic Growth

McKinney Texas – Building a Data Culture to Promote Academic GrowthSince 2000 the population in McKinney, Texas has almost tripled. Remarkably, the school system has kept pace, opening a new school building almost every year. The city has now reached the point of 50 percent build-out, and more growth is expected. Demographers, contracted by the school district, predict that the student population of almost 25,000 will double before McKinney expansion slows.

Despite the challenges inherent in a rapidly growing school district, McKinney ISD is one of the highest performing public school systems in the nation. The graduation rate is above 97 percent, and SAT/ACT scores are consistently above the national average. In the 2011-2012 school year, McKinney schools produced a Presidential Scholar and nine National Merit Scholarship winners. The Fine Arts program at McKinney ISD rates among the best in the state.

A guiding principle in McKinney ISD is that students from all economic backgrounds can and should reach high levels of academic achievement. To that end, McKinney ISD has built a strong district culture around the use of assessment data to make informed decisions around curriculum and instruction. In four years of using Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP®) assessments, they have expanded their use of test data to guide all levels of district planning, from individual student goal setting to norms-based national comparisons.

McKinney ISD began their partnership with us here at NWEA in 2008 as a response to federal legislation around Response to Intervention—the requirement that districts nationally restructure the way they identify students in need. The district used MAP as a universal screener, testing all students at the start of the school year and employing the test data to identify students at risk, as well as those in need of advanced academic services—the talented and gifted.

Chief Accountability Officer Geoff Sanderson, encouraged by the accuracy of the data and the immediate turnaround for test results, was quick to recognize the potential of MAP data as a tool that could be used to work through other daunting district challenges. He noted that the state tests were insufficient because they only indicated minimum on-grade level expectations, and did not show progress. Sanderson resolved to establish goals around MAP data instead. When he met with his board of trustees and McKinney parents to build understanding around the concept, he found that they too were enthusiastic about the positive aspects of a data culture in general, and a growth model, in particular.

The shift to a data culture has been well received in McKinney classrooms as well, where both teachers and students have embraced the concept of establishing and working toward data-based individual student goals.

After several years of phasing in MAP, the assessments are used in McKinney ISD every fall, winter, and spring for every student in grades 2-8. The comprehensive data that resulted has quantified and clarified issues that the school administration previously could only approach with guesswork.

Sanderson is also concerned with individual student success, and as the chief administrator overseeing 33 schools, he is interested in schoolwide and district-wide performance as well. For a big picture overview, he uses NWEA normative data to ascertain if McKinney students are ahead of the national average, and whether they are growing at or above the pace of their national age cohorts. He also looks at MAP reports related to building analysis and grade level analysis, with a focus on the percentage of students who meet or exceed their target RIT. In that way, he has been able to pinpoint what he calls “disconnects in the curriculum.” Whether or not the disconnect is a specific issue on a campus, or a district-wide issue, is determined with drill down analysis.

Today McKinney ISD uses MAP assessment data for a wide range of decision-making, and always with the goal of promoting individual student growth. Joe Miniscalco, Former Assistant Superintendent of Learner Support summarizes:

The culture we have developed at McKinney is about using data to inform our instruction and enhance what we do in the classroom. We do not use data to separate or humiliate. It’s not a two-by-four… it’s a tool. We use MAP to inform us so that we can be better facilitators in the classroom. And that’s the sign of a mature organization: We understand how to use that data.

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