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How Denver Public Schools Overcame District Data Woes

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November 1st, 2018

Denver Public Schools (DPS) serves students in one of the top 25 largest cities in the United States. DPS is one of the fastest- growing urban school districts in the nation and leads all large districts in Colorado in student academic growth.

The diversity of the district is reflected in its student enrollment, which is 56 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Caucasian, and 14 percent African-American. Additionally, 69 percent of the district’s students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch.

For years, DPS used an assessment and data analytics platform that was known more for the frustration it caused than the information it generated. “To say we didn’t like it was an understatement,” said Tim Leddy, who manages instructional systems as part of the district’s Academic Portal Team. “It just wasn’t working for us. In fact, it actually broke down during an important assessment window.”

In 2015, Leddy and other district officials began the process of finding a new assessment solution that could help them meet their ambitious goals for 2020. Around the same time, however, a group of schools in the district adopted a platform from Achievement Networks (ANet).

The district continued with its RFP to find the best solution for all of its schools. After reviewing proposals from 10 different providers, Illuminate DnA was the clear favorite. To make sure they made the right decision, district officials put Illuminate DnA through a pilot program at two middle schools, an elementary school, and a high school. Based on the feedback received from the pilot program, the DnA platform was rolled out district-wide in the 2016-17 school year.

All DPS schools had access to Illuminate DnA in the spring of 2016, and most of the district’s 200-plus schools opted in as soon as it was made available. About 60 schools decided to stay with the ANet program they started using before the RFP process was completed, but for the 2018-19 school year only 14 schools are planning to use something other than Illuminate DnA. One of those schools decided to retain ANet for grades 3 through 5, while opting into Illuminate DnA for grades 6 through 8.

K. Maxey-Moore, Director of Assessments for the Assessment Research and Evaluation Department at DPS, has been lobbying to move every school in the district to Illuminate DnA. The biggest benefit to participating schools is a comprehensive support package that includes access to assessment specialists, who help school administrators and teachers develop assessment strategies and create assessments that will help each school reach its goals.

The assessment specialists, all of whom are former teachers, offer a wide range of training and support services, covering pre-built and custom assessments, assessment literacy, and using data to modify instruction and map student progress to individual student learning objectives. “Our ultimate goal, and why we chose Illuminate DnA in the first place, is to get the kind of data reporting and analysis we can use to impact instruction in real time so our students can continue to grow,” said Maxey-Moore.

Maxey-Moore is optimistic that Illuminate DnA will provide the kind of actionable intelligence the district needs to reach its 2020 goals. “We’ve built our entire assessment program around Illuminate DnA,” she said. “Quite a few schools are already enthusiastic about the assessment platform and the data it generates, and more schools are learning what Illuminate DnA can do.”

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