RISE’s Foundational Conditions for Grade 9 Success: Data Visibility

Conditions for Grade 9 SuccessData Research and AnalysisData Tools and PracticesGrade 9 SuccessRISE by 5 Strategies

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been able to return to more “normal” celebrations than I had been able to in the last couple of years, and I’ve been reconnecting with friends and family who I haven’t seen in a while. Whether at the Thanksgiving table, a wedding, or a college football game, the question naturally arises: “So what do you do for work now?” Those who knew me as an English teacher and college counselor are usually surprised to hear that a large portion of my work at the RISE Network now involves nerding out over data tools and trends, and coaching educators around how to approach their school’s data. My jump from helping students create modern adaptations of Julius Caesar to analyzing trends and deltas seems bizarre to some. But what if I told you that the distance between storytelling and data visibility was actually much shorter than you may think?

This month, we’ll dive into the idea of data visibility – yet another of the five enabling conditions that we believe are vital to implementing an effective Grade 9 success program. To set the stage, let’s meet the two main characters of the data visibility story: Access and Accuracy. These two are the Jack and Jill of data visibility. You can’t focus on one without the other quickly tumbling after it. But first, let’s differentiate.

When I say “access” in terms of data visibility, I’m talking about conversations that center around questions like these:

  • How can educators, students and their families access data for attendance, grades and behavior? What steps do they need to take to do this?
  • How understandable is the data? For example, is it clear what the assignment is and how it affects the overall grade? 
  • How actionable is the data stakeholders can access? Do students know what they can do to improve or move on-track if they aren’t already? Do educators understand where a student stands relative to promotion requirements?
  • Equity check: Is it easier for some students and families to access and understand their data than others? What other resources can address this?

Relatedly, “accuracy” in terms of data visibility requires its own set of questions:

  • How well do the grades in the data system reflect where a student actually stands in a course right now? (i.e., Are grades current and updated regularly?)
  • How are the grades in the data system reflecting the skills, knowledge and mindsets that Grade 9 students are working to master?
  • How well does the data system reflect promotion requirements? Can teachers and students both see that in real time?
  • What are the limitations or setbacks of our data collection systems, and how can we work to close those gaps or at least be transparent about them? (e.g., Attendance data show who is in class during 2nd period – but not who is skipping class or wandering the halls.)

Now, let’s put the two together to tell the story of how Access and Accuracy can have a profound impact on a student’s experiences. Once upon a time, a 9th grade student at Imaginary High got sick and had to miss six days of school. The student, Coldilocks, was feeling better physically, but got anxious when she took stock of all the work she had missed. That’s when her guardian, Fairy Godmother, sat with her so that they could both check their PowerSchool apps to see her missing assignments. In the app, Coldilocks saw her missing grades for the past week’s assignments and knew that she now was not on-track in key courses she needed to promote to 10th grade. She was also able to see when her teachers had after school support so she could follow up with them and get back on-track. Her Fairy Godmother reminded her that her teachers were generally timely in updating her grades and would work with her to submit her assignments. Relieved, Coldilocks sent herself a text with the notes on the work she needed to do and her plan for approaching her teachers at school the next day. 

In this data story, the student and parent had access to information that allowed them to understand the student’s current status and what needed to be done to be back on track to meet promotion requirements. This was possible because they were confident in the accuracy of the data they were viewing, which allowed the student to understand her reentry point in her classes and feel less anxious. The shared on-track definition combined with accurate and accessible data in order to allow educators and caregivers to work in partnership to adequately support the student.

While every student’s home life and relationship to their grades data is different, this sort of data story does not need to feel like a fairy tale. In fact, many of our network schools are doing incredible work to bring this vision to life. For example, Coldilocks would be a great student for an on-track data team to discuss using a KidStat Data Protocol. In that space, teachers could discuss Coldilocks’ strengths and challenges, and norm on a common approach for helping her complete assignments without her getting overwhelmed. Equipped with a strong definition of what it means to be on-track, all of the key characters – Coldilocks, her Fairy Godmother, and her teachers – are using data to work in partnership and adequately support her.

At RISE, we’ve kept the stories and potential of data visibility top of mind as we build dashboards and tools that allow educators to use real-time data to support their students. RISE coaches are also working directly with school teams on how to best work within their current infrastructure to ensure they can see clearly, as teams, which students are on and off track. Check out the table below for  additional strategies and samples that you may find helpful in crafting your own data visibility chronicle. 

In the end, we know that data visibility is more of an odyssey than a short story, and that you may occasionally feel like the wrong person to pull that sword from the stone. That’s when I would encourage you to remember that behind every data point is a story of your students’ experiences, perspectives and potential. With incremental work in centering data access and data accuracy, you and your teams – with the support and encouragement of RISE – can make a profound difference in the story your students tell themselves about their ability to be successful in high school and beyond.

Data visibility
End of Quarter Playbook: A collection of discussion protocols, template emails, and policy approaches that can help keep data visibility top of mind at the end of a quarter/marking period. Milestone Attendance Data Dive Protocol w/ Guiding Questions: A protocol to facilitate a structured and periodic review of attendance data. (Can be used in partnership with the Attendance Support Cheat Sheet and the Attendance 3 R’s Data Dive.)
Data visibility
Family Workshop Planning Guide: Thought-provoking questions and resources (including a sample slide deck in English and Spanish) to help you host a Grade 9 family night that illustrates the unique needs of freshmen and the importance of on-track.
Data visibility
with students
PowerSchool Challenge: A scavenger hunt-esque activity that prompts students to reflect on their grades in one of their current courses.Am I On Track?: A reflective exercise aimed at helping students internalize their on-track status and build self-monitoring habits. 
Some additional readingFrom Hammer to Flashlight – A Decade of Data in Education: This report argues that data in education has been transforming from being perceived as a “hammer” to a “flashlight,” guiding instruction, informing decision-making, and supporting increased student success. Education is an evidence-based field, and the data collected and used in the field has tremendous potential.

Our Grade 9 Summer Symposium explains why we care so much about Grade 9 and underscores why it is the “make-or-break year” for students. We will be hosting our second annual Symposium in June 2023, and would love for you or members of your team to attend! Complete this form to make sure you are notified when registration opens. In the meantime, we invite you to connect with us on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay up-to-date on RISE news and events.