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Teachers learn to delve into data

Technology could assist educators in their approach to CSAP

Christine Metz

— They might not have been wearing hard hats or brandishing pick axes, but the school administrators and support staff that gathered at Steamboat Springs High School this weekend were learning to mine.

Mine for data, that it is.

For two days, they were instructed in how to dig deeper into the heaping numbers of Colorado Student Assessment Program scores to find valuable nuggets of information that could be used for improving test scores.

Some 20 administrators, principals and support staff from five Northwest Colorado school districts attended the all-day workshops on data mining.

What they found was CSAP information that could be broken down to sub categories in math, reading, writing and science and separated by grades, students or even groups of students.

“We’re raising a whole level in terms of how we can help kids do better because we have more information,” Steamboat Superintendent Cyndy Simms said.

The workshops were the second part in a three-part state program called Tech Tools, which is designed to have administrators work with information technology tools.

Sponsored by the Fund for Colorado’s Future, monies from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Colorado Association of School Executive have allowed more than 1,000 state administrators to learn how to get the most out of their CSAP data.

“The project’s mission is to help district leaders become technology leaders. It means more than understanding CSAP scores,” said Robin Ziperman, who was one of the data mining instructors.

Steamboat Springs was one of the many districts in the state to take advantage of the Colorado program that gave a laptop to each superintendent and principal in the district who attended the first instructional session held in October.

Although the first and last session includes only administrators, Friday and Saturday was opened to any school staff that wanted to learn how to work with the CSAP data. Ziperman and Troy Lang showed how districts could import their schools’ CSAP scores, disaggregate information, create graphs and have the state’s traditional thick binder’s worth of data organized on a single computer screen.

For Ziperman, the workshop will start a much larger process that allows administrators and teachers to use the CSAP scores as indicators of where students’ strengths and weakness lie. Although she warns that CSAP scores and the trends they produced are just a piece of the puzzle, she claims it’s a great starting place for asking questions on what needs to be changed to improve test scores.

“We’re giving training to those people so they can work with other personnel in school districts on interrupting, evaluating and beginning to look at the CSAPs for some kind of instructional decision-making component,” she said.

Sitting at one of the computers early Saturday morning was Steamboat’s Nanette Waneka, who was excited about what she saw on her computer screen. Before her was a graph clearly showing what percentage of 10th-graders fit into what proficiency levels for two different components of the CSAP’s math test.

Although Waneka, who has worked with CSAP scores and content standards for the last few years, was excited to see graphs, she was even more pleased with the breakdown of test scores in sub-content categories.

For the first time, Waneka said, schools can take an overall score for one subject, such as reading, and separate it into different areas of focus.

These sub-content scores allow schools to see more than just a high or low reading score; they show what specific areas in reading are strengths or weaknesses for students.

And that tool could be helpful for teachers on a group or individual level, Waneka said.

If grade-school teachers see, for instance, that multiplication has been a lower score area for students, they can begin looking for new ways, materials or times of year to teach multiplication. And teachers can pass on students’ broken-down test scores, so new teachers will know students’ strengths and weakness even before the first day of class.

“We’re getting a lot of data; that information can adjust our instructional style,” Waneka said.

Although not yet feasible, Simms is looking to a time when students and their parents can also have access to individual scores that explicitly point to strong and weak areas.

The focus on individual test scores goes hand and hand with the state’s education slogan “A years growth in a year’s time,” which places emphasis on the goal to have every child’s ability to increase by one year in the CSAPs.


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