The Online Educator
Creating a Framework to Make Data-Driven
Instruction a Reality
by Gregory Scott Decker, Ed.D., Principal Lead Mine
Elementary School Raleigh, North Carolina
How can we help students increase learning, meet state
and national content standards, and achieve success on
rigorous performance assessments? To improve student achievement
in the classroom and on high-stakes tests, we need to
ask the right questions and gather the right data. At
Lead Mine Elementary School, we receive data from our
state test, the North Carolina End-of-Grade Test, after
students leave for the summer. However, to increase student
achievement, we need current and accurate data on an ongoing
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Over the last 4 years, Lead Mine Elementary has built
an education framework that has resulted in academic
growth for students and helped make data-driven instruction
a reality. By using this framework, we have developed
a way to secure the data we need to make better instructional
decisions and improve student achievement on a continuing
basis throughout the school year. "The Lead Mine Elementary
School Curriculum Design" framework created by our administrators,
teachers, curriculum specialists, literacy specialists,
special education resource teachers, tutors, and media
specialist has four major components:
Curriculum alignment: What are we going to
Curriculum mapping: When are we going to
Curriculum benchmarking: Did students learn
Differentiation: What teaching methods would
be best for each student?
Using this Curriculum Design framework, our teachers,
parents, and students can see student expectations for
each grade level. We can track student progress, identify
needs, and provide focused instruction and interventions.
Ultimately, we can improve student achievement throughout
the school year and on the End-of-Grade Test.
Lead Mine Elementary is located in Wake County, an
urban area of Raleigh, North Carolina. Our school currently
enrolls 600 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Our student population is 50 percent Caucasian, 28 percent
African-American, 14 percent Hispanic, and 8 percent
other minorities. We are an English as a Second Language
(ESL) school and more than 40 percent of our children
receive free and reduced lunches. Our school is part
of the Wake County Public School System, the second-largest
school system in the state.
The first component of our Curriculum Design framework,
curriculum alignment, shows what we will teach
in each subject area and at each grade level.
How did we begin? First, our teachers assembled their
curriculum for each grade level and aligned it with
the state's Standard Course of Study. Then they organized
the components of the curriculum visually. On the horizontal
axis, we listed each grade level from kindergarten through
fifth. On the vertical axis, we listed each academic
subject area. Next, the teachers identified which skills
students should be able to demonstrate in each subject
area and grade level.
Building on the curriculum alignment component, which
shows what we will teach, the curriculum map
illustrates when we will teach it. It displays
the skills in the order they will be taught in each
grade level. To determine the mapping sequence, we evaluated
research across a number of areas, including best-practice
teaching methodology, cognitive-learning theories, and
As we laid out the objectives across the curriculum
mapskill by skill, grading quarter by grading
quarter, and grade level by grade levela bigger
picture began to emerge. We saw that we needed to strengthen
connections among and between grade levels and subject
areas. Taking advantage of this new perspective, we
decided to thematically align instruction across the
subject areas in each grade level, when appropriate.
Not only did this approach make better sense to us,
but we knew it would make better sense to our students
We extended these connections to our media center
as well. Every child in our school sees our media specialist
once a week. The media specialist's role is to enrich
the curriculum and learning process through the use
of technology. Toward this end, she regularly meets
with the grade level planning teams as they design their
lessons according to the curriculum map. By participating
in these meetings, she can align her instruction with
what the children are doing in class and help them identify
and use appropriate resources, including the Internet.
Of course, just because our teachers and media specialist
have a plan for what to teach and when
to teach it, that does not automatically mean that students
will learn it. With this in mind, we developed
quarterly assessments and minimum standards of achievement,
known as curriculum benchmarking, for each grade level.
This is a simple process of quality controlidentifying
children who have mastered skills and those who have
yet to master them.
These multiple assessments (which are correlated with
the curriculum alignment and curriculum maps) allow
us to collect objective data throughout the school year.
This helps us determine where children are, and where
they need to be, to successfully pass local academic
standards and the End-of-Grade Test administered in
grades three, four, and five. This also enables us to
provide timely interventions in the classroom or enroll
students in special programs to assist them wherever
they need it.
Students who attend our school from kindergarten through
fifth grade will be benchmarked against minimum grade
level expectations 24 times over this 6-year period
using multiple assessments. The wealth of data we accumulate
allows us to look at each child longitudinally, determine
how to best help each reach their full potential, and
determine what interventions are most successful.
As we review the assessment data, we try to determine
what teaching methods would be best for each learner.
We have found the integration of technology to be a
valuable tool in helping teachers differentiate instruction
for students based on their individual needs.
When we set out to develop our Curriculum Design framework,
we looked for a curriculum solution that would support
our philosophy and provide ongoing embedded assessment
and detailed student performance data. At the same time,
we wanted a solution that would provide differentiation
of curriculum, allow for curriculum compacting at the
academically gifted spectrum, and provide direct interventions
to students who needed to focus on a specific curriculum
concept they have failed to master. We found that Pearson
Education Technologies' SuccessMaker comprehensive courseware
system provides the best system to align with what we
were doing and provides real-time data correlated to
our End-of-Grade Test.
Each student uses the curriculum courseware for 30
minutes a day, three times a week to strengthen their
skills in mathematics, reading, writing, and language
arts. As students work on the courseware in the classroom
and computer labs, we see that every computer monitor
is different because every child is working at his or
her own pace and skill level. This is true differentiation.
The courseware's management system provides teachers
and parents with up-to-date assessments of each student's
skills. The system's assessment tools and on-demand
reports allow teachers to monitor each student's performance
and growth, pinpoint difficulties, and provide interventions
as needed. For example, if a group of students has difficulty
in a specific area, the teacher or media specialist
can provide additional instruction or resources to cover
that area in greater detail. Alternatively, if the reports
show that everyone in the class has mastered a concept,
the teacher or media specialist can move more rapidly
through the lesson, which helps both to make more effective
use of their time with students.
Data from the curriculum courseware also plays an
important role in our curriculum benchmarking. In fall
2000, we wanted to determine target courseware levels
for achievement on the End-of-Grade Test and incorporate
these into our benchmarks. We provided Pearson Education
Technologies with data from our 2000 End-of-Grade Test
and student performance data in the courseware.
The company then performed an "OnTarget Analysis,"
which is part of their new High Stakes Management suite
of tools and services. It analyzed students' performance
data and End-of-Grade Test scores to establish the statistical
relationship between courseware levels at the time of
the test and test score data. Using this information,
the company established target courseware levels for
specific test achievement, then recommended some adjustments
to our benchmarks to help ensure smooth transitions
from grade to grade.
The result is that we can now forecast the time a
student needs to reach a specific SuccessMaker level
and see the relationship of that level to achievement
on the End-of-Grade Test. We incorporate this data as
a part of our quarterly benchmarks and use it day to
day as well. A key benefit is that the courseware provides
a continuous view of student progress toward the target
level and corresponding goal, aiding the teacher in
providing timely and appropriate instructional focus
and intervention throughout the year.
In addition to using assessment data to help make
instructional decisions for each child, teachers share
the data with parents to show them how their child is
performing and to address areas of difficulty. Teachers
appreciate having objective data available at parent-teacher
conferences. It diminishes human error and biases, placing
the focus on addressing the needs of the child rather
than finding blame.
Parents play a critical role in our efforts to improve
student achievement. As such, we strive to provide them
with as much information as we can about their child.
We put our curriculum alignment and curriculum benchmarks
in a pamphlet and hand it out the first day of school
when parents attend open house. We tell the parents,
"This is the contract we are making with you and the
academic expectations we are seeking." This helps parents
see our vision for the school year and take a more active
role in helping their children develop the skills they
need during the year.
For example, in the first quarter of grade four, we
may say that the minimum expectation is for each child
to know eight of the 16 mid-year objectives. In our
open house at the first of the year, we provide parents
with all 16 objectives. At the end of the quarter, we
inform parents how many of the 16 objectives their child
knows and whether or not their child is working at grade
level. This gives the parents direct, objective feedback
based on the alignment, the map, and the End-of-Grade
testing. We communicate with parents every grading period
and lay out the objectives again for each grade level
in an insert that goes into the quarterly report cards
of children who have not met the minimum expectations.
This Curriculum Design allows us to become completely
transparent, giving parents and the community a clear
view into our curriculum and assessments. This approach
has greatly improved our relationships with our stakeholders
and has increased student academic success as well.
Developing a Record of Success
We continually work to update and fine-tune our Curriculum
Design. Each spring, we review and edit the framework
to reflect changes in our curriculum, standards, and
assessments. When children return in the fall, we have
a renewed framework to better meet their needs. As a
result of our efforts, our decision-making ability has
become more data-driven and students are improving.
In 2000-01, 88 percent of our students passed the
North Carolina End-of-Grade Test. The North Carolina
Department of Public Instruction named Lead Mine Elementary
a School of Distinction with Exemplary Growth, the highest
award given to schools in the state, in recognition
of our academic achievement and academic growth for
all children. In 2001-02, 91.2 percent of our students
passed the End-of-Grade Test, and we were named a School
of Excellence with Exemplary Growth for a second time.
The fact that we are a school of "Exemplary Growth"
indicates the potential of this Curriculum Design and
its ability to increase student growth and performance.
Regardless of academic level, ethnicity, or socioeconomic
status, when a child enters Lead Mine Elementary, he
or she will grow academically because we effectively
hold ourselves accountable for every child. In fact,
our student performance and growth rates continue to
rise on the End-of-Grade Test, even though our poverty
rates have increased annually. This is a phenomenon
that is not occurring in many schools.
In a changing education system that demands accountability
and strives to provide more information to parents about
their child's achievement, we are excited about what
Lead Mine Elementary has been able to accomplish. Many
factors have been central to the success of our program:
hard work, dedicated teachers and staff, an outstanding
curriculum design, use of technology, constant monitoring,
data-driven decision making, and people open to new
ideas. Most importantly, we always put the child first.
We know how to ask the right questions to determine
a child's needs and what interventions will ensure the
child's success. We firmly believe it is our responsibility
to provide each child with whatever support is needed.
We strive to meet the needs of all the children attending
Lead Mine Elementary.
Communications to the author may be addressed to Dr. Gregory
Scott Decker, Principal, Lead Mine Elementary School,
8301 Old Lead Mine Road, Raleigh, NC 27615, 919/870-4120;