George Lucas Educational Foundation

Humboldt Elementary

Grades K-6 | Dewey-Humboldt, AZ

Making Student Data Part of the Conversation

Humboldt Elementary, a school once on the verge of being labeled under-performing, turned to data to move the bar on student success.
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Teacher pointing to a wall of color coded cards

When Cole Young became the principal of Humboldt Elementary School 12 years ago, the school was only 300ths of a point away from being labeled under-performing. Young, who had previously been a teacher at Humboldt, knew that they needed to enact change -- and they needed to do it quickly.

Young, who says he'd "been a numbers guy for a long time," began aggregating all kinds of data, pushing it out to the teachers and staff, and exploring the role it could play in helping the school turn the tables on its under-performing label. Twelve years later, the result is a school that uses data in myriad ways and is truly data driven.

Creating A Data-Friendly Culture

In moving Humboldt Elementary to a more data-driven model, one of the first challenges that former principal Cole Young faced was figuring out how to use the data, how to share it, and how to get everyone on the same page with the numbers. The school didn't have a culture of data, and creating one was difficult. "I had never been a part of a data culture, and we didn't have a system in place for it," Young says. One of Humboldt's early mistakes was what Young calls "death by data," where teachers were given a mountain of numbers and often felt a sense of "now what?"

Young began parsing through the data and looking for what would be the most useful for teachers, providing them with enough data to help them feel effective and targeted in their instruction without crossing the line into overwhelming. Once that data was shared, Humboldt staff met as a group to look at the numbers and talk about what to do with it, how it applied to research-based practices, and strategize collaboratively as a school.

Every teacher had a different comfort level with working this way, but once they looked at the data and were able to see the data points start to move for their students, the staff developed an overall sense of empowerment and buy-in.

Making It Collaborative, Not Competitive

Teachers at Humboldt don't see just their own data and scores, they see everyone else's as well. That openness wasn't something that was initially in place. Previously, teachers might have felt that they would be judged by their students' data, and it was something they kept to themselves.

Three years into his tenure, Young decided to start sharing data for all teachers, and used it as an opportunity for staff to collaborate and strategize together. Now everyone's data is shared and projected on screen after the benchmark assessments, and teachers come together to draw strengths from each other as they reflect on the data.

Tools of the Trade

Humboldt uses several different assessments to track student performance, including DIBELS, Galileo, and the AIMS test. Title I instructor Maureen Holt currently creates the student data reports in a program called VPORT, although Humboldt has used the MClass program in the past. 

Creating Their Own Tools

Once they developed a comfort with data, teachers found themselves wishing for better tools to help them organize it. When they couldn't find what they were looking for, Humboldt teachers created their own data tools.

On the wall of instructional specialist Gwen Walton's room is a color-banded row of four hanging pockets that hold colored index cards. Each card represents a child, and each color represents a certain level of performance. Red is for students in Tier 3, yellow represents Tier 2, green is for students who are performing at benchmark, and blue is for students who are high achievers. The wall is only for reading scores, since that was a big push for Humboldt over the last few years.

Students are tested at the beginning of the year to establish their index card color, which is also the color band in which their card starts out. As they are progress monitored every three weeks and fluctuate up or down in achievement, their card moves through the color bands. This wall is strictly teacher facing, so the students never see it, but it's a visual way for teachers and staff to keep track of how kids are improving and where they are currently performing.

Keeping the Conversation Going

Once the students are benchmarked and that data is shared, the conversation about those scores doesn't end. Teachers are continually getting data, ensuring an ongoing process of examining it and making changes from it throughout the year. "We didn't wait for natural breaks along the way, such as Christmas or spring break," Young says. "Once we saw something in the data, we made changes immediately."

Humboldt teachers have grade-level meetings every week to review their data together and strategize, as well as sharing tips and practices. "Teachers are talking data all the time," Young says.

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Maureen Holt's picture

Every student is looked at as an individual and interventions are put in place based on need. We have built RTI time into our daily schedule and teachers work with students in small groups or one on one during this time. Our entire school focuses on RTI through many different areas. We have specialists on campus who take groups; highly qualified paraprofessionals who take students either individually or in small groups; volunteers and teachers who all help with the RTI in our school. We use the data to determine what interventions to put in place and we do pre and post assessments to make sure the interventions are appropriate and working. We began with reading but have moved into math and writing. This year we are focusing on behavior interventions and continuing our ongoing interventions in all other areas.

Deb Stahl's picture

So you raised test scores - big deal. If the kids aren't learning better, if the kids are still having a hard time emotionally and socially, if the kids are getting less art and music and PE and recess, then the school hasn't truly improved - it's just raised test scores. Is there a way to ell from test scores whether children are really getting a better education? Or just that test scores are up?

What a shame that a school would choose to be data-driven rather than CHILD-driven. Data can inform instruction, certainly, but I would not want to teach anywhere where numbers are made the primary driver and target, and made public like this. Not cool. :-(

Sarah's picture

We've been doing this for a couple of years and have seen some great academic achievement by paying attention to the data and it's relation to our teaching practices. Where did the school get the pocket charts? Those would make our data wall a lot more mobile and accessible to teachers. Plus a lot less time would go into creating the wall and more time could be spent on the conversations surrounding the data. Please share where the pocket charts came from. Thank you in advance!

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Deb, the intention is that the data serves the children and helps to identify where to best use resources (which is what this school does).

If a school uses its students to serve the data, then they're doing it wrong.

Maureen Holt's picture

We ordered our charts from Carson Dellosa, they are called adjustable tri-section pocket charts. We made the cards ourselves and printed the data on labels. Good luck!

Elizabeth's picture

I think the idea of data walls is awesome! There's nothing worse than giving out assessments and not doing anything with the collected information. My school is just beginning to implement data walls for benchmark reading assessments. Based on the results, I will re-assemble my guided reading groups. As far as confidentiality of students, it is only the building principals and other grade level teachers that see the information. If a student were placed in a different classroom, that individual would see his/her results anyway. This is part of why it is SO important to work as a collaborative team and trust your co-workers.

VRain's picture

Thanks for sharing the information was very helpful and I plan on sharing with my.administration at my school

Kenya's picture

I like how your school share the assessment data. My school does the same and we all saw where one teacher was excelling in math. We were able to pull great ideas from her. I also really like the color coded system. What a great way to track and monitor students' progress.

Deana Galaviz's picture

The idea of making data collaborative rather than competitive represents a key component of the data standard as described by Learning Forward ( When it comes to analyzing data, it is important to find effective ways to utilize that data rather than keep it on an individual level. Through collaboration, educators can strategize and implement methods that they would not have thought of on their own. This will provide a better idea for understanding educator learning needs to design meaningful professional development programs. In doing so, educators can begin to ask themselves the right questions when evaluating professional learning in regards to data--that is, questions addressing its worth, merit, and effects.

Brynn Taylor's picture

I really like how your school took data basically into your own hands. I also like how the school is constantly looking at data and fixing items in a timely manner. Schools shouldn't just look at data two times a year, it should be an on going process.

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