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Assessing district literacy needs: Coaching to turn data into action

Assessing district literacy needs

By Cora Goldston
May 20, 2020

A strong literacy foundation is crucial for students to build academic knowledge, communicate effectively, and succeed in school and life. Districts and schools use a variety of tools and resources to help students improve reading skills. To support these efforts, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) wanted to learn more about how the state’s districts and community schools (also known as charter schools in other states) develop and implement plans to improve student reading success.

Collaboration between ODE and REL Midwest

At ODE’s request, the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest provided coaching to build the agency’s capacity to collect, interpret, and act on data about Ohio district and community school efforts to support literacy. ODE was particularly interested in learning more about Reading Achievement Plans. Certain districts and community schools are required to develop these plans based on their previous Ohio State Report Card or state testing results. Reading Achievement Plans include measurable goals for student achievement, actionable strategies to meet student needs, plans for targeted professional development, analyses of students’ English language arts testing results, and an analysis of factors that may affect the district or community school’s literacy outcomes.

Dan Frederking, technical assistance consultant with REL Midwest, notes that the collaboration between ODE and REL Midwest started with a broader scope: “Initially, our work was examining how Ohio districts implement literacy practices in general. But as the work began, ODE came to REL Midwest because the state was particularly interested in how districts and schools write their Reading Achievement Plans and who is providing support for implementing these plans.”

Coaching on planning and conducting data collection

To support this mission, REL Midwest hosted three coaching sessions for ODE literacy and research department staff on developing a plan to collect data and make sense of the findings. As a first step, REL Midwest and ODE worked together to develop two main research questions:

  • What decisionmaking processes are districts and schools using when developing and implementing their Reading Achievement Plans?
  • What supports are districts and schools receiving while developing and implementing their Reading Achievement Plans, and where do these supports come from?

Drawing on the knowledge gained from REL Midwest’s coaching, ODE used three avenues to collect data about how Ohio districts and community schools use Reading Achievement Plans:

  • A survey, sent to all Ohio districts and community schools that had to complete at least one Reading Achievement Plan since 2015, to learn how Reading Achievement Plans are developed, the resources and supports used to develop them, challenges districts and schools face in implementing the plans, and additional resources needed.
  • Focus groups with Ohio’s 16 regional early literacy specialists, who support districts and schools in implementing their Reading Achievement Plans.
  • Interviews with a sample of literacy staff from a range of districts and community schools about their district or school perspective on developing and implementing their plans.

Value of coaching on data collection and analysis

L.M. Clinton, Third Grade Reading Guarantee administrator with ODE, found the coaching and collaboration with REL Midwest to be beneficial in several ways. “REL Midwest’s support gave us a blueprint for engaging numerous stakeholders efficiently and meaningfully,” Clinton notes. “The focus group protocol, project management timeline, and survey allowed us to solicit feedback from multiple perspectives and levels of support. The districts interviewed were excited to have their voices heard and to be involved in a project that will lead to improving the support they receive.”

Following the data collection, REL Midwest provided coaching to the ODE team on analyzing and interpreting the data. REL Midwest and the ODE team then brainstormed how the state could build on the results. Clinton points out that the information will inform guidance for and reviews of Reading Achievement Plans. “The timing of this project was perfect because it coincided with the Ohio Department of Education’s preparation for an upcoming administrative law review and the annual cycle for reviewing Reading Achievement Plans,” he explains. “The results and considerations from the research report will inform the department’s discussion with the State Board of Education during the review.”

Clinton adds that “the preliminary results of the survey, interviews, and focus groups also informed internal changes to the Reading Achievement Plan process in real time in response to districts’ feedback. Overall, the results of the project will inform large-scale process improvements to the support and resources districts receive.”

In considering the broader benefits of the collaboration, Clinton says the knowledge and skills developed through REL Midwest’s coaching will have relevance beyond Reading Achievement Plans. “ODE is using many of the survey design principles learned through the coaching sessions in order to create a survey for our districts on experiences and satisfaction with state support team services for continuous improvement,” he explains.

This project provides an example of how states can use knowledge and tools for data collection and analysis to explore any topic of interest.

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Author Information

Cora Goldston Staff Picture

Cora Goldston

Communications Specialist | REL Midwest


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