It’s tempting to present Goochland County Public Schools purely as an academic success story. Serving a quiet, rural community just outside of Richmond, Virginia, the district consistently earns high marks on state assessments. In 2019 it was recognized as the no. 1 school district in the Richmond metro region by ranking and review site Niche.com. And it has earned a reputation for innovation, thanks in part to its strong technology program, which provides a computing device to every student in grades K–12.
These are, without doubt, successes—but they don’t tell Goochland’s whole story. Just a few years ago, there was a small feeling of failure lurking behind the district’s high-performance wins: certain groups, including economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities, were consistently failing the state assessments.
“Off the cuff, people would say, ‘Well, you’re failing them,’” notes Sean Campbell, coordinator of student data for Goochland County Public Schools. “We wanted to do more, and know more. We wanted to find out what we can do that is better for our students and the families we serve.”
Innovating and motivating
In 2013, the district took steps to prioritize individual student growth over traditional achievement measures. That’s also when they brought in MAP® Growth™ and MAP® Skills™ to start backing their beliefs with data.
I love the whole mindset that students are really competing against themselves.
As the data built up through the years, a new story emerged: Those same groups that performed poorly on the state tests ended up growing at a greater rate than the average student. This was in itself a success story, and it also pointed to the problem: these kids were coming into kindergarten with weaker skillsets than their peers. This knowledge helped spur efforts to close that gap, including enhancements to the preschool program and a partnership with Head Start to create more opportunities for early learning.
Along with driving the district to try innovative ideas, the shift from a strict pass/fail policy to a greater focus on more individualized growth measurements has also boosted motivation and morale.
“I love the whole mindset that students are really competing against themselves,” says Sean. “I liken it to being a marathon runner. When you go into a marathon, most people are racing against their own times. They’re trying to see ‘Hey, is my personal best better today than it was yesterday?’ And that’s really what we want to instill in our students. How did you do in the fall, how did you do in the winter, and how did you do in the spring? Were you able to beat your personal best? Instead of having some arbitrary number handed to us from the state department saying ‘Yes, you’re a pass or a fail,’ we’re able to go back and say ‘Wow, look at how much you have learned.’”
Goochland offers a great example of using high-quality data to tell the whole story, and shows how embracing that data can help schools—even high-performing ones.
Students aren’t the only ones who benefit from this perspective shift. Teachers appreciate the morale boost, too. Sean remembers one year when a fourth-grade teacher had a cohort that came in with a particularly weak skillset. When they took the state achievement test, the students didn’t perform as well as the teacher thought they would. She was devastated, recounts Sean, and felt like she’d failed her students.
That all changed when they dug more deeply into the MAP data. According to the conditional growth index for the class, the teacher had actually gone beyond a year’s worth of growth. “Her morale was just totally changed,” recalls Sean. “Instead of saying, ‘Yeah, your kids didn’t hit the mark you thought they should,’ it was ‘Let’s look at not only how many grew, but how much they grew.’”
Goochland offers a great example of using high-quality data to tell the whole story, and shows how embracing that data can help schools—even high-performing ones—better support their students and teachers.
Read our case study about Goochland’s efforts to create an equitable learning environment for all students. For more about the skill gaps of students starting kindergarten, download our research brief.