Poring over student achievement data has given officials with the DeForest Area School District a lot to go on with regard to professional development.

“It’s a matter of, ‘Here’s how kids scored, here’s what we can do with instruction,’” said Pete Wilson, director of administrative services with the school district.

Wilson and Director of Instruction Rebecca Toetz gave a “Professional Development 2019-20” presentation to the school board at its Oct. 28 meeting. They talked about how they are viewing the data.

“We came away with a ton of knowledge about these students,” said Toetz.

Two separate data teams – one for K-8 teachers and another for those teaching 9-12 grades – are learning about the data systems and how to coach to their colleagues on what the data revealed.

Wilson said they were “looking for gaps” where the district can improve. There are three areas officials are focused on: equity, literacy and engagement. The data comes from the Forward testing, school report cards, iReady results, and ACT and pre-ACT testing, among other things.

Wilson noted that DeForest is not teaching to the test. On the other hand, Wilson said, “I don’t know if we’ve done a good job of preparing for the assessment.”

With regard to equity, 100 teachers from the district participated last summer in equity training, along with 30 to 40 support staff members.

“It’s not going to a conference and listening,” said Toetz. “You don’t make an impact doing that.”

Wilson talked about how the Department of Public Instruction has a new requirement for evaluating teachers. It involves having a “mini evaluation” every year. Wilson said a survey of teaching staff showed they wanted more quality feedback about their work, especially in the area of student engagement.

According to Wilson, districts who give high-quality feedback to teachers have higher student achievement and higher teacher retention.

Wilson and Toetz have gone into classrooms on mini observations. Toetz said the principals at the different schools have appreciated them “sharing the load.”

“It’s nothing new,” said Toetz. “We’re just trying to firm things up, but be good at what we practice.”

To Toetz, it’s all about supporting teachers.

Wilson said they are starting from the ground up, even working on such development with 4K and regular kindergarten teachers.

“They want to talk about their connection with data,” said Wilson.

Wilson and Toetz talked about a heat map that educators are looking at with this process. Wilson said it allows staff to see where the holes are. Toetz talked about how it shows what standards are being covered well in the district.

Toetz also discussed how it could show high-performing students not doing well in a particular area. If that’s the case, Toetz said it could be a curriculum issue.

As an example, Toetz cited an area the district’s students didn’t do well in during the most recent testing: comparing and contrasting texts. Toetz said that showed that the necessary rigor wasn’t there.

“We’re still working on it, still finding things,” said Toetz.

School Board Vice President Steve Tenpas asked how the district would go about making necessary “course corrections” in say, December, after the school year has started.

Wilson said each facility in the district is already making them. Each building has its own self-assessment goals, as Wilson said they can say, “Here’s what we’re doing well, and here’s what we need to do better.”

That knowledge can help the school board decide on reallocating resources to areas that need shoring up, according to Tenpas. He wondered, though, at what point does an issue require a sense of urgency.

“Some of the results are not good,” said Tenpas. “We can’t hide from that. And that’s actually a good thing.”

Board Member Jeff Miller liked the collaborative aspect of the work, as school officials talked of breaking down silos that exist in some areas to deal with these issues.

Fellow Board Member Sue Esser liked how officials were “digging down and finding out what the issues are from the floor down to the student level and bringing them back to us.”

Superintendent Eric Runez called it “a higher-level look at data.” The question now is, according to Runez, “How do you use it to inform decision-making?”

There is a coaching cycle to professional development that starts with a standards-based goal, then moves into developing targets and pre-assessment. Sixty percent of that coaching cycle involves co-planning and co-teaching, with post-assessment to follow.

A consultant from CESA 6 is helping the district on engagement stratagems. Toetz said, “Getting students engaged takes time.”

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