Using data to drive decisions in our Schools

School Talk

By Ben Barton, Superintendent of Schools

This is the time of year where the Caledonia Area Public Schools’ team is gearing up for the start of the school year to provide the best education to empower all learners to thrive in our changing world.  It is also the time of year when we receive the results from the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) from the previous school year. The MCAs are taken in grades 3 through 8 in reading and math, 10th grade in reading, and 11th grade in math. Science assessments are given in grades 5, 8, and 10. The MCA’s are intended to assess student’s knowledge of the state standards. We are proud that our district MCA assessment scores are among some of the highest in the area. As evidence of this I would refer you to an Argus article two weeks ago regarding Caledonia High School’s 16th ranking in academics out of the 487 high schools in the state of Minnesota.

We take the state standards and MCA assessments seriously, however we also recognize it is only one of many variables in assessing student progress. Assessments are used as a method to collect data either for accountability purposes or informational purposes to drive quality decision-making. The two types of data we collect are either summative or formative. Summative data is at the end of something (unit, semester, year) and provides information on if the students met standards. The MCA test is an example of a summative assessment. Forgive the morbid example to come, but summative data is commonly referred to as “autopsy data”. Just as in an autopsy, summative assessments will tell a story but there is nothing you can do to change anything. Formative data, on the other hand is conducted at the beginning or during something and is meant to inform decisions so that modifications and adjustments can be made. Formative data is used to monitor progress or to diagnose. We use the analogy of going to the doctor for a physical to better explain what formative data is. Just as in a medical physical, we screen and assess to make a diagnosis and treat. We will then monitor progress and adjust accordingly.

I think most educators would share with you that they value formative data over summative data, although there is acknowledgement that both are important. In some sense, all data and the results—good or bad—are ultimately good, because they provide feedback that can guide us, telling us what to do next and how to do it better. As we continue along our journey at Caledonia Area Public Schools we will work to enhance how we collect and utilize data.

We are pleased with our recent progress and achievements in the academic areas, however we are not satisfied! The truth of the matter is that I strongly feel that we have yet to “scratch the surface” of how great we can become as a school district. We humbly ask for your support to join with us on our journey to transform education on behalf of our students.