We know that good use of data by schools is fundamental to improving student outcomes, but how does data-driven teaching and learning work in practice? Onehunga High School, a large multicultural school on the edge of inner-city Auckland, has shown powerful improvements in student progress as a result of getting better at collecting and learning from data over the last four years. Principal Deidre Shea and Associate Principal Gareth Leadbeater explain how their school went about this transformation.
Over the last four years, the number of students getting merit and excellence in NCEA has increased year on year at every level, as has the proportion of students achieving qualifications. It’s the upshot of the introduction of the University of Auckland-led Starpath Project five years ago. Starpath supports schools to embed academic mentoring and the use of data to track students’ progress and to identify areas for improvement. Being involved in Starpath proved to be a turning point for Onehunga, enabling the school to shape and drive their own journey while also providing access to an evidence-informed approach and accompanying support and expertise from the Starpath team.
Before the initiative, the school used data primarily retrospectively to analyse results after they came out at the end of the year. Gareth Leadbeater describes the old process as crossing their fingers, waiting for numbers to pop out at the end of each year, and hoping for improvement.
Starting small and building up
Realising that it would be impossible to immediately implement a school-wide initiative, Onehunga began their journey to more effective data use only with those teachers who self-identified as being interested in participating and were willing to take on extra work. They started off with 20% of staff being involved but by half way through the first year the other teachers were so convinced about both academic mentoring and the use of data that the whole staff opted to come on board the following year.
In the first year, they focused only on Year 11. Teachers were asked to estimate the number of credits they thought students would get. This information was then put together and presented to teachers and Heads of Departments to enable the identification of problem areas and individual students who needed additional support. Now, teachers routinely monitor and report on student learning and achievement throughout the year and feed this information back to Gareth, who leads data use at the school. These data is then collated and used to identify areas of concern as soon as possible so that interventions can be put into place earlier and earlier.
For 2018, the big focus is supporting individual teachers to be monitoring their own students and data and instigating interventions where appropriate.
Fostering learning conversations
Perhaps the biggest change at Onehunga has been the way teachers talk with students – the academic mentoring part of the Starpath project. Every conversation is viewed as an opportunity to find out where the students are up to, what their next steps are and if they need any help and support.
To support staff in knowing how to have effective learning conversations, school-wide PLD sessions were run in which effective learning conversations were modelled. Staff were also provided with scripts to help guide early conversations. Those teachers who needed extra support were given one-on-one coaching by a member of the Starpath team.
In 2017, Onehunga implemented student-led three-way conferences with students, their parents, and their teacher. Despite initial scepticism, these were hugely successful, demonstrating how cognisant students were of their own learning and achievement and what their next steps were. Parents also reflected that their children had never talked about learning so much!
Providing students with access to better information
Onehunga now provides students with better access to information about their progress through an online portal. Students now know where they are at in their learning while a user-friendly assessment calendar enables students and their families to know when assessments are due. This has enabled students to hold teachers accountable, and to insist on clarity and consistency of assessment dates and requirements. Furthermore, to support students in their subject selection, Onehunga worked with a web-developer to create an online system whereby students can see how many credits they could achieve through particular subject choices and whether they counted towards literacy and numeracy credits and UE.
Top lessons for other schools from Deidre and Gareth
- Be clear about the reasons you are using data and how you are going to use the data you collect. The amount of information you can produce is huge, and you can produce it in lots of different ways. It’s important to focus data collection and analysis on what you really want to know.
- Consistency in what you present. Don’t chop and change the way you present the data. Make adjustments but try to keep a common thread so that staff understand what you are talking about.
- Regularly present the information to staff and students. Both staff and students want to know how they are getting on. The more regularly people engage with data, the less afraid they are about using data.
- Embed high quality PLD support, so that you are not alone in your journey and that you have a critical eye to.
- Identify expertise in your own staffing. Having people on the staff who have understanding and zeal about what you are doing is critical to driving forward new processes and ways of working.
- Use what you know about change management to inform the change and implementation process.
- Do it in a staged way. Don’t try to do everything at once. Rather introduce new processes and practices in stages. This will help you to develop the support of the staff and it becomes ‘just the way you do it around here’