Tracking Meaningful Student Data in Anacostia High School, Washington, DC Public Schools
By Donald Thompson, Jr., HS Math Teacher
I am a math teacher at Anacostia High School in Washington, DC. A lot of organizations have tried to help improve Washington, DC public schools, Anacostia in particular. But our students still struggle a lot — only 15% are proficient in reading and 10% in math. 71% of our students are on free or reduced lunch.
I was given an opportunity to help change the status quo. I was selected to participate in the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and local Washington Teacher’s Union (WTU) Teacher Leader Program, which gives teachers the resources to study cutting-edge educational policies in education and make recommendations for change in the district to improve educational outcomes. I chose to focus on personalized instruction for each student, just like top schools are doing across the country. I felt that if we could see each student as an individual, we could provide each of them with the specific instructional strategies they needed to succeed.
I started with weekly meetings with the math team and created data trackers to monitor performance. What I discovered was that the current data we tracked was helpful but not enough. We knew how our students were doing but we didn’t know why and we still didn’t know what to change.The AFT leadership team suggested I try MindPrint Learning. MindPrint provides an assessment of cognitive skills. Unlike the other tests we use, it doesn’t measure what students have learned. Instead, it measures how well they learn in different formats and identifies which format will be best for each of them. It sounded like the additional layer of insight we needed.
To be honest, it was hard to get teachers to agree to give another assessment, particularly during remote learning with COVID. We had hoped to test over 200 students. We tested 28. But the data was enough. Enough for our teachers to say we should be using MindPrint for all students next year. Enough to see our students differently so we know how to help them.
Here’s what we discovered:
1) 7-14% of our students qualified as gifted based on national norms (districts use varying cut-offs) which is consistent with national statistics. Our students can be the best and brightest if we can just get past their zip code and provide the opportunities they deserve. In a school where the vast majority of students are struggling, giftedness wasn’t even on our radar.
2) While 57% of our students are struggling with verbal skills, only 28% struggled with visual reasoning. Those numbers are higher than we’d like but they are a lot better than the 85+% who are not proficient in math and reading. We can now see the path forward is to focus on their strengths–those stronger visual skills. Our math scores don’t show it, but we should be preparing our students for careers in STEM–they are capable and we have the data to prove it.
3) 68% of our students are struggling with executive functions. Our kids have the burden of food insecurity, safety, and who knows what else. Research says that chronic stress interferes with their ability to focus and we now have the data to prove it. Creating an environment where our students feel safe and ready to learn must be our #1 priority.
I started this project hoping to provide my students with the same personalized learning opportunities that students in other schools get. I discovered that giving my students the best meant giving them what they need most, not necessarily what other kids have. Now we know what they need, and we will provide that in the Fall. Equity is giving them the path that is best for them now and tracking our data to ensure that we continue to meet each of them where they are.
Donald Thompson Jr is a doctoral candidate at Grand Canyon University, pursuing a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in K-12 Leadership, M.A. in Educational Administration from Grand Canyon University, and a B.A. in Mathematics and Human Development from Boston College. He is an AP Stats teacher in Washington DC, WTU professional development instructor and Teacher Leader, and an AFT National Trainer. He has a passion for sailing, scuba diving, and cycling.