Establishing a data-driven math culture raised proficiency to 97 percent

A superintendent’s perspective on how to make it work.

I believe in creating data-driven cultures to effect change at the district and school level in math because I’ve seen it work. Here are two examples from my own experience that illustrate the power of selecting and using a data-driven approach. Math achievement rose to new, higher levels during my six-year tenure as Superintendent at Anson County Schools in North

Carolina from 2007 to 2013. Here are two brief case studies of what I experienced:

District Level: Using leading indicators to understand Algebra failure improved proficiency from 11% to 97%. We shifted the calculus of data use for math improvement in a number of ways:

Anson County Schools District Algebra Proficiency

  • Disaggregation of our proficient levels as measured by state End of Grade assessments in Grades 3–8 as compared to the End of Course assessment in Algebra. Our goal was to understand the root cause of Algebra failure in order to create a comprehensive instructional, curricular, and assessment alignment to ensure proficiency.
  • Disrupting the response to failed learning. Data showed us consistent patterns of decreased math proficiency as students progressed through our system. Again, we focused on leading indicators to aggressively identify, monitor, and adjust instruction to prevent failure rather than remediation.
  • Retooling formative assessment practices in three ways. A: Reconstructed assessments to the leading indicators that were more specific based on the foundations of numeracy. B: Limited the number of assessment items to increase feedback immediacy for teacher and learner. C: Increased the frequency of assessments to expand instructional adjustment opportunities.
  • Policy changes to reconstruct standards. We discontinued “pre-Algebra” so every seventh grader was enrolled in Algebra. Over a year we deconstructed Algebra standards, then reconstructed them by creating detailed instructional and learner task analysis for each standard with measurable indicators, which formed the foundation of our formative assessment instruments (see Lisa Carter’s Total Instruction Alignment).

The result: Progression of eighth graders demonstrating proficiency on the high school Algebra End of Course assessment increased from 11 percent to 97 percent. Improvements in End of Grade proficiency (Grades 3–5) equaled the success in Algebra. As fourth graders (80 percent proficient) entered fifth grade (89 percent proficient) the calculus of instruction shifted from remediation or treatment to a growth mindset and practice.

Math achievement rose to new, higher levels during my six-year tenure as Superintendent at Anson County Schools in North Carolina from 2007 to 2013.

School Level: Math proficiency improved from 33% to 89%. Intentional shifts drove achievement one school: at Morven Elementary in Morven, North Carolina.

Morven Elementary School Math Proficiency

  • Empowering a leader with the right mindset. The principal at Morven Elementary had the fundamental conviction that all students could be successful if a climate of high expectation was practiced consistently and constantly.
  • Implementing a Teacher Development Center (TDC). A dedicated professional mathematics educator provided individualized instruction for each staff member in Instructional Literacy, Curriculum Literacy, Assessment and Data Literacy, and Digital Literacy to create a foundation of common language, practice, and culture.
  • Rethinking the role of technology-based instructional programming. This shift included embracing the power of technology to assist classroom teachers to disrupt failure through aggressive, timely, and specific interventions during the process of learning, not just at the end of instruction.
  • Creating a data center. We shifted how the data center was used as a centerpiece for staff teaching and learning to monitor and measure each learner’s progress and growth.
  • Using real-time data. Staff learned to use leading indicators of learning, more frequent formative assessment utilizing fewer questions, and greater access and opportunity for collaboration.

The result: Improved math proficiency from 33 percent, to 80 percent, to 89 percent in a three-year time span using a SMART data-driven approach.

These are just two instances that show the power that can be derived from establishing a data-driven culture. These types of outcomes are being realized all over the world as more educators build data-driven math learning environments.

Learn more about the what, why, and how surrounding establishing a data-driven culture to raise math achievement. Read my white paper, A New Math Classroom: Creating a Data-Driven Culture.

Dr. Gregory Firn

Dr. Gregory Firn

Dr. Gregory Firn served as Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent, and in several other educational leadership roles in Texas, North Carolina, Connecticut, Washington state, Nevada, and overseas. Grounded in the school effects research, Dr. Firn’s leadership resulted in school system improvement as measured by student achievement and performance results, increased parent, community, and school engagement, increased graduation rates and decreased student suspensions. A pioneer in digital conversion, he twice led system-wide digital transformation initiatives, including the design and implementation of robust human capital development programs. Dr. Firn earned his doctorate from Seattle Pacific University, where his research focused on learner-centered education.
Dr. Gregory Firn

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