Delivering on the Promise

Advanced uses of technology strengthen educators' capacity to analyze student learning data in Montgomery County, Md. by John Q. Porter

Closing the achievement gap in one of the most diverse school systems in the nation — one in which more than 160 different nationalities are represented, 120 different languages are spoken and more than 26 percent of the students are living below poverty level — is not a mission for the weak-hearted. It requires vision, perseverance and a strategic plan that includes a systemic approach to identifying the low-performing schools in the district and infusing them with the tools and resources they need to succeed.

Under the leadership of Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, the Montgomery County, Md., system launched several strategic reform initiatives that have raised math, reading and comprehension scores to above grade level for all grades and schools in the district. These reform initiatives have included full integration of organizational development, information technology management and data assessment under one office: The Office of Information and Organizational Systems. This alignment has strengthened the districtÕs ability to use technology to gather and analyze the data necessary to better inform decision making and improve student achievement.

One of the key technology initiatives to support teaching and learning simplifies access to relevant student achievement data through an integrated quality management system. This system consists of a data warehouse, instructional management system and student information system. Teachers now have immediate access to student performance data so they can assess student knowledge and ability and tailor instruction accordingly.

Multiple Directions
The data warehouse organizes longitudinal data from multiple sources, providing reports and data extracts to support data analysis and strategic decision making across the district. Educators use this data to support school improvement plans, identify focus areas for instruction and monitor academic achievement trends.

The web-based instructional management system, or IMS, manages and delivers curricula, monitors student performance on formative and summative assessments and gifted and talented screenings and provides data required to support No Child Left Behind. IMS also enables administrators and teachers to make data-based decisions to modify instruction and develop individual learning plans.

The student information system manages all student administrative data, including enrollment, attendance, special education information, grades, scheduling and course management.

The technology-based management system affords the school district a unified approach to information management, timely and differentiated professional development, evaluative research and quality control to support school system priorities. We are focused on helping teachers improve instruction, enhance student learning, remove institutional barriers to academic success and build operational capacity for greater change through technology-based processes.

The importance of information technology in the reform initiatives under way in Montgomery County parallels the technology advances in private industry that make critical real-time information available anytime and anywhere. As more is expected from students, teachers and principals without a concomitant increase in instructional time, technology accelerates our ability to meet increased expectations through streamlined student assessment and professional development.

The use of online and hand-held-based assessments streamlines the process and accuracy of providing diagnostic information to teachers and principals. Student performance data are available in real time from technology-enhanced reading assessments and through the school districtÕs instructional management systems, enabling teachers to diagnose what students know and are able to do each day throughout the school year.

This early identification and application of interventions help prevent students from falling below grade level and also provide more challenging opportunities for students who are performing at higher levels. By streamlining the process of collecting diagnostic information, teachers have more and better information quickly.

Online Training
Staff development is an essential component of the superintendentÕs and board of education's efforts to build the capacity of staff to implement improvement initiatives. The data gathered from monitoring student achievement help administrators identify teachers who are implementing best practices, identify opportunities for differentiated professional development for struggling teachers and provide appropriate support and resources for the entire district instructional staff.

The effectiveness of the professional development activities themselves also is easily assessed using technology. For example, at face-to-face trainings, we are piloting the collection of observation data on staff mastery of the professional development outcomes using hand-held devices. Administrators use this information, available through a secure website, to determine what training strategies are effective and what additional support teachers may need.

Montgomery County administrators also use new technology-enhanced strategies to evaluate the effectiveness of staff development in developing the capacity of our educators to implement the district's goals and academic priorities. Each year, hundreds of teachers new to our school district or new to teaching a particular course or grade-level require training and support from their experienced colleagues to develop content and instruction expertise. Technology solutions focus on facilitating "anywhere, anytime" access to timely data, instructional models and best practices, as well as professional development offerings to meet the needs of a large and changing teaching force.

Through a partnership with Classroom Connect, an online learning provider, the district developed modules to support administrative and supervisory staff. These modules focus on the standards for these staff members by providing real-world examples and research in each of the performance standards. We also are developing an online course on data-driven decision making. This course, designed for administrators, staff development teachers and other school leaders who work with data, will train staff to turn student performance data into information they can use to inform instruction. Online modules also are being created to support diversity training initiatives.

Additionally, in partnership with TruNorthLogic, the school district has developed a comprehensive, centralized system for registering, maintaining, tracking, monitoring and reporting professional development information for teachers and administrators. This new professional development online system is web-based and provides staff with information and tools to manage their own professional growth. It also provides our district with a mechanism to align training with staff needs and correlate professional development data with student data.

The professional development management system allows administrators to target announcements, information and content to professional staff members according to position. Administrators also are able to highlight required and recommended courses tailored to each individual; generate individual transcripts of all completed courses; view and monitor individual certification information, salary and highly qualified information; expedite payroll processes; create and edit personal professional development plans; and improve the tuition reimbursement processes.

Accelerating Achievement
The continued growth of the global economy and marketplace is increasing the expectations of what students need to know and do. Teachers, principals and parents need access to the same essential performance data that supports accountability monitoring and identifies where improvements can be made in teaching and learning.

Information technology has played a key role in helping the district realize its goals by providing teachers with supports to enhance teaching and learning, improve content mastery and deliver professional development using different modes. Under the superintendent's leadership, the other members of the school district's executive leadership team and I are designing and deploying reform initiatives that leverage information technology to use instructional time more efficiently and effectively to increase achievement for all students.

John Porter is deputy superintendent for information and organizational systems in the Montgomery County Public Schools, 850 Hungerford Drive, Rockville, MD 20850. E-mail: John_Porter@mcpsmd.org