BARNEGAT – The Board of Education voted to reconfigure its school district just about two years ago. For some, the decision to divide elementary schools by grade level came with great resistance.
That said, the revised approach to local education allowed for an intensive focus on harvesting data and putting it to use for learning instruction, officials explained.
As it did with districts across the country, COVID-19 added an unwelcome glitch to changes within Barnegat Schools. Teachers diligently conducted remote classes, as educators expressed their concerns about the prospect of extreme learning loss.
The New Jersey Department of Education puts a hold on statewide assessment tests during the school years 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. Students in grades 4 and up took some tests in the fall of 2021 as part of the Start Strong initiative in English Language Arts (ELA), Math, and Science.
Regular New Jersey Student Learning Assessments (NJSLA) return this spring. In the case of the Barnegat Township School District, their investment in a program called LinkIt! has every indication it is helping educators target the academic needs of local students.
“Districts are kind of flying blind as far as how the kids are doing,” said Jim Barbiere, Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Human Resources. “They know what the students are doing as far as the teacher created materials, but the teacher materials aren’t always aligned to the same expectations as the state of New Jersey.”
“LinkIt! offered a product that is in alignment with the best practices in education,” Barbiere continued. “It’s designed to promote the best practices for targeted instruction.”
Barnegat Schools began piloting LinkIt! in the 2018-2019 school year and fully adopted the program in the 2019-2020 school year. As it turns out, timing may be everything in this case.
LinkIt! establishes benchmarks that other districts have seen as highly predictive on state assessments, according to Barbiere. They have the ability to do so because LinkIt! also warehouses data from thousands of state assessment results throughout the state.
“Data is crucial to education,” shared Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Latwis. “We become more efficient when teachers are able to pinpoint specific student learning standards for areas of focus, both for their entire class and individual students.”
Latwis said that frequent monitoring of data lets district leaders know where to direct resources so that they can be responsive to student/teacher needs.
The district assigned experienced teachers to lateral moves as instructional coaches. The coaches review the results of LinkIt! testing and confer with classroom instructors to discuss their findings.
“Instructional coaches are able to determine where the teachers are getting through and where students are struggling,” Barbiere explained. “They then look for additional resources to help the teachers address particular standards.”
At last month’s Board of Education meeting, each individual school set up a presentation showing the most recent data harvesting results.
Students initially took tests to establish their attainment of goals from the previous year. For example, students in fifth grade were asked questions regarding subject materials taught in fourth grade. They were also tested on lessons planned for the upcoming year.
The results showed that the younger grades benefited the most from data harvesting efforts and the intervention of instructional coaches. Despite COVID-19, more students showed proficiency in ELA, while the increases were not as predominant in math.
Work continues at both the junior and high school levels, where students have already experienced some learning loss.
Barnegat’s consistent use of the LinkIt! product earned it special recognition from its creator. The local school district is one of three districts statewide that will be included in a special documentary concerning the use of data harvesting in education.
Chad Marcus, Chief Academic Officer of LinkIt! acknowledged that Barnegat is one of 300 schools throughout the state that use the program to make assessments throughout the year.
“We create predictive cut offs called scores that show based on a student’s performance on LinkIt! benchmarks and other tests as well,” said Marcus. “The LinkIt! benchmarks and the other test indicators allow us to come up with a range of scores that can be used to predict student outcomes.”
LinkIt! has offered Barnegat Schools professional development workshops to further enhance the use of evaluating data and putting it to use. The workshops are called WAGOLL, which stands for “What A Good One Looks Like.”
Marcus explained that the reports produced within LinkIt! contain very comprehensive information that go through every standard in particular subjects by grade level.
“We break it down through different lens of equity around race and gender,” Marcus explained. “The reports are designed to be analytical, but also serve as professional development where district leaders and school leaders can use the data to set goals and monitor them.”
“The video documentary will highlight some of the activities around the data,” Marcus continued. “The discussions and the questions people ask will basically serve as exemplar for other districts to emulate as they continue to enhance their data culture.”
Marcus said Barnegat was chosen as one of the districts to benefit from the additional professional development and inclusion in the documentary because of the district’s positive and purposeful data culture. He said that the district isn’t just “using data for data’s sake,” but to make informed decisions at the classroom level and with school-based administrators in the central office.
“We really thought about a district that had the capacity to do this work,” summed up Marcus. “Barnegat was very much at the top of our list.”
According to Latwis, the LinkIt! benchmarks are only one piece of the puzzle. The district also uses a wide variety of online programs to track student progress and then analyze the results. These include IReady for Math, STAR Reading and ESGI in the primary grades.
Board of Education President Sean O’Brien said that he attended the first WAGOLL professional development workshop and was quite impressed.
“As someone who is not an educator, I always try to relate ideas to my professional experience,” O’Brien shared. “I use data every day to make decisions. Tools like LinkIt! allow our teachers to work with a scalpel instead of a chainsaw.”
“We don’t say a student struggles with math,” O’Brien continued. “LinkIt lets us say ‘this student struggles with two-digit multiplication and identifying patterns.’”
O’Brien said that while he appreciated the statement that “students are not data,” he understands how the tool enables educators to understand where they need to be focused. The board president also expressed his appreciation that LinkIt! chose Barnegat to provide high-level professional development workshops that might otherwise be unaffordable.