2017-11-17

pictured above: a Chance the Rapper-themed bulletin board made by the Santander Bank team serving with Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School. This is an example of the creative ways that AmeriCorps members interpret and use data - in this case, broad trends in student attendance data.

An interview with Amy Goodnough '12, '13, Evaluation Manager, and Adriana Hernandez, Evaluation Director, City Year Boston

This is the second in the blog series "Building Blocks of City Year Service." 

CYB: What student data does City Year Boston collect and why?

Amy Goodnough & Adriana Hernandez (AG & AH): AmeriCorps members use data about students to inform the service that they provide. Academic data can help indicate what skills a student has mastered and where they could benefit from additional support. Attendance data can establish whether a student is arriving at school every day ready to learn, which can give corps members a starting point for the process of identifying barriers and brainstorming solutions to attendance issues. And finally, data from SEL (social emotional learning) assessments (which measure things like optimistic thinking, taking responsibility, and social awareness) helps AmeriCorps members choose starting points and strategies for working with students on their SEL focus lists. In all three of these cases, data is a tool that helps AmeriCorps members think holistically about students in order to best support them.

CYB: What does the process of analyzing and applying student data look like?

AG & AH: The corps members conduct four to five data review sessions a year. They collect data constantly during their service but the data reviews provide a chance to really analyze that data and put it to use.

They start each data review session by making observations: they look at the student data for what it is, without judgment. Then, they make inferences: they bring in all the context they have and make connections between data and what they know about students. They are uniquely equipped to do that because they know their students the best. After that, they identify next steps and make an action plan: they take data and context and use it to identify where they need to go with their student. For example, if data shows the student has really mastered a certain subset of skills in math, then the corps member knows that they're ready for the next level of skills, and can begin to plan what math resources to bring in in their small group and one-on-one tutoring.

On a higher level, we share data with Impact Directors, and with Instructional Coaches and Learning and Development staff members, who may use it to craft trainings that are responsive to needs and trends. For example, our Senior Student Engagement Programs manager used some of the goal setting data that we have to craft a session about setting effective goals with students.

Has the way that we collect and/or use data changed over time? How will it continue to change?

AG & AH: In the last five or so years we have transitioned from just measuring data, to using it to inform our service and what students need; we don't just collect data, we move with it.

We are and will be increasingly able to look at data throughout the service year. Even in the last couple of years we went from one data review per year, to four or five, to now, going forward, six. More touchpoints means there are more opportunities to use data to course-correct mid-service.

What do you love about working with data in the capacity that you do?

AG: Everything. More than anything, I really love taking something that can be intimidating and making it accessible in service to students. And of course, because I really like numbers!

What do you wish people know about student data?

AH: There is sometimes a resistance to data and a criticism that "students aren't data points!" But data is just one lens we look through. It is a tool and a resource. When you think about data in the traditional sense, you think numbers, good, bad, improved, not improved. However, we believe that there's no wrong way to look at data and there's no right way for data to be. By focusing most of our energy not on obsessing about whether the numbers go up but rather that we're providing something truly excellent to our students, the numbers will follow.

In addition to gaining the hard and soft skills to discuss and synthesize data through service, our AmeriCorps members receive widely applicable training and professional development in a large range of other areas. Check it out and apply now!

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