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How a Large & Diverse District is Making Data-Driven Decisions

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February 15th, 2018

Ascension Public Schools is a large public school district in southeastern Louisiana, between the cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans. With more than 22,000 students, the district serves the diverse communities of Donaldsonville, Dutchtown, Gonzales, and Prairieville.

In 2017, the district was awarded its sixth consecutive “A” rating from the Louisiana Department of Education, based on School Performance Scores. Fifteen of the twenty-seven schools in the district earned “A” grades, and most of the schools in the district showed growth in almost every state measurement.

Ascension ranked fourth overall for performance in the state in 2017, an especially remarkable achievement considering the district serves more students than the top three districts combined. The district is expected to open four new schools in the next eight to ten years.

Back when the district first desired to become more data-driven, it didn’t have many assessment systems to choose from. As a result, district officials went with a technology platform that was readily available.

However, the platform lacked true data analysis and reporting functionality. “I started working in the Central Office in 2012, and one of my projects was to manage district benchmarks,” recalls Melissa Langlois, M.Ed., NBCT, Instructional Supervisor at Ascension. “Our teachers were spending an inordinate amount of time organizing data so they could analyze their students’ results and make instructional decisions. The platform we were using only organized student data into three categories—high, medium, and low.”

After seven years, district administrators decided to search for a new platform that was better aligned with their goal of using data to drive decisions. In looking for its new assessment platform, the district established two main requirements: the tool had to be easy-to-use for teachers and feature fantastic reporting capabilities.

The district chose Illuminate Education’s Data & Assessment system (DnA) in March 2014. The new system was put to the test immediately, as district benchmarks needed to be written for the following year.

After leveraging DnA to establish the first set of benchmarks in the 2014-15 school year, administrators and teachers were excited to extend their interactions with the platform.

In the three years since the district adopted DnA, administrators and teachers have used it in a variety of ways in their quest for continued growth and improvement. “The dynamic features in DnA allow us to drill down to individual kids quickly and look at their performance over several years or grading periods,” Langlois asserts. “This is important because in order to help kids grow, you need a sense of their strengths and needs.”

With the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the State of Louisiana developed a new growth model that has changed the way districts measure performance and is designed to ensure that kids who are not proficient in certain areas can be brought up to mastery.

Under the new system that began in the 2017-18 school year, a growth index is calculated based on whether students reach expected growth targets. The performance of certain at-risk subgroups is also monitored, including English Language Learners, disadvantaged students, special education students, and students of military families.

Knowing that they had to adapt to new formulas and calculations, district officials reached out to Illuminate Education with predictive analytics. The goal is to build reports that can determine in advance how likely students are in reaching their growth targets, thereby allowing early interventions to ensure success by the end of the year. This will not only help students succeed, but it will also ensure that teachers achieve quality standards.

Ascension officials believe that one of the best things about Illuminate DnA is that the platform is never standing still. “Student and teacher needs are always changing, but we’re counting on Illuminate to deliver tools we’ve never used before and new ways to use the tools we currently have,” says Langlois.

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