New Report Argues School Improvement Requires Both Data and Design Approaches

A central strategy of school reform efforts in recent years has been the emphasis on data-driven decision making. While the need for timely, accurate data on student performance is critical for ensuring that students graduate on time, a new report from New Visions for Public Schools suggests that the most successful schools use not only data, but also design, to impact student achievement.

New Visions’ case study, “Design and Data in Balance: Using Design-Driven Decision Making to Enable Student Success,” argues that data alone are not sufficient to raise student achievement. The authors point to design-driven decision making as an effective approach for school improvement. The approach targets the organizational structures within schools—the composition of teacher teams, roles of teachers and advisors, meeting structures, sequence of courses—that are critical determinants of student success.

 


Using Brooklyn’s High School of Telecommunication Arts & Technology as their case study, the authors reveal how a high-performing urban high school uses both data and design in tandem to identify what structures account for patterns of student success and failure. Their analysis focuses on several aspects of the success of Telecommunications High School (or, “Telly,”) which had an 82.5 percent graduation rate in 2013.

Among the school’s promising practices:

  • Telly invests considerable resources in grades 9 and 10, in an effort to make sure students remain “on track” during the crucial early years of high school. Class sizes are smaller in these grades.
  • Telly organizes its teacher teams so that a core group of three teachers (English, social studies and science) are all responsible for the same group of roughly 100 students in grades 9 and 10. The teachers meet daily to discuss student progress, identify issues and design interventions before small problems grow into big ones.
  • Telly groups its students in purposeful ways to ensure each small learning community has a heterogeneous mix of students (high performing students, general education students, and students with special needs, etc.). At the same time, each small learning community has a core group of students with a particular special need, so that the leadership team can target resources to the group.
  • Telly’s use of “grade advisors”—teachers with reduced teaching loads—to monitor the performance of a cohort of students over four years provides another vantage point for keeping track of students, and supplements the efforts of teachers and guidance counselors to keep students on a track for postsecondary success. This includes careful monitoring of students’ credit accumulation, course grades and pass rates on state-mandated Regents exams.
  • A challenge for Telly—and for many schools and districts across the country—is the group of persistently low-performing students, most of whom enter high school with below-grade level literacy and math skills. The school has a difficult time moving sizable numbers of these students toward graduation in four years.

“We often focus on school size and support structures when we discuss school improvement. What is equally important, however, is how human capital and organizational structures within a school can be allocated in an effective, and replicable, way. Organization matters,” said Robert Hughes, president of New Visions. “At Telly, the allocation of resources is tailored around students’ needs.”

“The role of each school is to create systems and structures that meet students where they are and push them forward in their academic learning as well as in their social and emotional growth,” said Deputy Chancellor Philip Weinberg, former principal of the school. “The goal is to instill in students the knowledge and skills that will enable them to thrive in college or a meaningful career. At our school, we used teams of teachers who worked within clearly defined structures. That enabled us to provide ongoing support for both our teachers and their students.”

“At Telly, we’re committed to putting our students on a path for success. Our teaching staff are positioned to tackle students’ learning in a strategic way. We achieve this through careful scheduling that privileges targeted collaboration among a team of teachers in what can be a very isolated profession,” said Interim Acting Principal Xhenete Shepard.

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