Chicago Public Schools
Name: Chicago Public Schools
Location: Chicago, IL
With over 420,000 students and more than 600 schools, Chicago Public Schools finds itself in all three stages of data-driven decision making at once: collection, analysis, and action. The master data warehouse is nearly complete and will be rolled out in fall 2007 along with systems for specialized services management, curriculum instruction, and student information. Analysis is handled by the Office of Research and Analysis and published on a dedicated research Web site (http://research.cps.k12.il.us). The Principals Technology Leadership Institute (PTLI) is training principals in the art and science of using data for decision-making within their schools.
Chicago Public Schools is the third largest school district in the country, serving the city of Chicago with 623 schools, over 420,000 students, and approximately 44,417 full-time employees. “We have the highest gains that we have ever had in Chicago Public Schools,” said Sharnell Jackson, Chief eLearning Officer. She attributes the district’s improvement to an overall strategy of applying data-driven decision making to teaching and to leadership. “This is assessment for learning to improve instructional strategies and meet student needs.”
Created four years ago as part of the Office of Technology Services, the Office of eLearning provides both leadership and training to build capacity for elearning throughout the district. “My role is to find the innovative tools and resources,” said Jackson, “and to train, implement, deploy and provide end user support.” Her staff have the unique combination of technology and instructional experience.
Data Driven Decision Making: Starting the Process
As one of their first implementations, the Office of eLearning helped transition the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) assessment from paper to electronic delivery. Designed to capture student progress, the paper-based test results arrived too late for action. “It was autopsy data—dead on arrival,” according to Jackson.
Under Jackson’s direction, the district moved to electronic collection of the data with timely, web-based reports. A trained data team, including literacy leaders and coaches, helped teachers administer the probes and capture the results. They synched their handheld devices using Wireless Generation and viewed the results online within 24 hours.
Once uploaded, the scores are converted into benchmarks of low, some or high risk with recommended levels of support to help students meet or maintain their literacy levels. The prompt feedback helps teachers check their assumptions about student perceptions and respond immediately. They can re-administer a particular probe to check student knowledge acquisition after concentrating on a weak area.
By October of the first year, more than 90 percent of student data from the 123 participating schools had been delivered to the state, a new high. When the Chief Education Officer realized that teachers using handhelds provided more complete, timely, and reliable data, she mandated the program for all first grade students, training 1400 teachers in 457 schools. The district is now rolling out the program to second grade and at-risk kindergarten classes.
Data-Driven Decision Making: Analysis
From collection to analysis, the Office of Research, Evaluation and Accountability (REA) is responsible for providing analysis and perspective on data such as the DIBELS results to help district administrators, principals, and teachers make data-based decisions. A recently released report on the district’s research and accountability web site analyzed the importance of CPS preschool attendance to DIBELS results, providing the whole community with valuable information.
In addition to public documents, principals and area officers have log-in access through the research site. According to Amy Nowell, director of applied research, “Our chief education officer will say I’m meeting with principals and we want to talk about reading and specifically this area, can you make a report?” Her team generates the reports and posts them online instead of mailing paper copies or CDs. “This is a great tool for getting the information out.”
If the research team believes a single request for a report would help others, they post it to the site for all. Principals and Area Officers can drill down to classroom, grade level, demographic, or individual data. According to Nowell, the data savvy principals take the excel files and create their own reports. Others use the analysis of the research department or request help. Deep discussions result about the data and strategies for making a change.
Data Driven Decision Making: Real Results
Critical to the acceptance of data as a decision-making tool is leadership. As many principals reach retirement age, the district is particularly interested in training and empowering new principals with data analysis and decision making skills. With less experience and relationships to guide them, they rely more heavily on data as a tool for discussion and decisions.
In the second year of the Principals Technology Leadership Institute, principal cohort groups met several times a year and continued their learning online in moderated, private blogs. They collaborated on assessment and survey tools using a wiki, and learned to use multiple measures of data as part of planning, analysis, and decision making. “The new principals are on fire,” according to Gerald Beimler, leadership development programs manager. They are ready for the curriculum management system to come online next year and to work with teachers to take action on the data available to them.
The state of Illinois has taken notice of the Chicago Public Schools. With literacy data arriving sooner, and more reliably, they have adopted Wireless Generation for all schools in Illinois. Jackson feels confident that the successful strategy for data-driven decision making in early literacy can be applied to almost any content area for the district.
“Everything we do is related to teaching and leadership,” said Jackson. “We look at what is needed and provide a coherent approach to supporting schools to look at data. It took about three and a half years to build capacity for the literacy program. We trained literacy leaders and coaches; we provided technology support to the schools. And now that support has been transitioned to the office of literacy.”