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The Data Wayfinding Partnership for the Improvement of Literacy in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Pacific | November 14, 2023

The Data Wayfinding Partnership for the Improvement of Early Literacy is named for the traditional system of ocean navigation through which wayfinders use observational data of the seas and skies to guide their travels across the open ocean.1 As voyaging canoe wayfinders gather environmental data to inform decisions about when, how, and which direction to sail, educators gather data from a variety of sources to inform decisions that impact student learning, such as instructional strategies, professional development, and systemwide program implementation.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Public School System (CNMI PSS) and REL Pacific formed this partnership to address PSS's goal of strengthening teachers' use of data to inform decisions around literacy instruction and intervention. CNMI PSS leaders expressed concern about students' low achievement levels in literacy in the early grades, understanding that meeting literacy benchmarks in grade 3 is strongly related to reading achievement in later grades and college and career success. This partnership supports PSS's overarching goal of nurturing students to be lifelong learners and developing essential skills for success in education, the workforce, and life.

Building a culture of data use to zoom in on early literacy

To meet their early literacy achievement goals, CNMI PSS has been diligently building a stronger culture of data use at the classroom, school, and systemwide levels. REL Pacific's role in the partnership is to support CNMI PSS leadership as they identify strategies and create and deliver professional development to strengthen data-driven decision-making processes across schools, particularly regarding student reading interventions within PSS's multi-tiered system of support (MTSS).

Partners and projects that work together toward the five-year outcomes

This partnership brings together the senior directors of the Office of Curriculum and Instruction (OCI); the Office of Accountability, Research, and Evaluation (OARE); and the Office of Student and Support Services (OSSS), who form the core partnership team for a holistic approach to addressing the high-leverage need. The core partners regularly revisit the partnership logic model, first developed in 2022 as a five-year plan, to ensure that the REL's work is on course for meeting the long-term outcomes of the partnership:

  • Partners maintain trust and good relationships between their respective agencies.
  • PSS reports systemwide and regular engagement in data-driven decision making within reading instruction and intervention processes.
  • PSS central office staff monitor and update reading instruction and intervention processes as needed.
  • PSS partners report increased knowledge and understanding of research-based practices that support effective data use at the classroom, school, and district levels.
  • Data show an increase in student reading outcomes.2

The logic model serves as a wayfinding tool that supports the partnership in defining and celebrating key milestones along the way, and course correcting or adjusting the destination when needed.

Training, Coaching, and Technical Support

 CNMI PSS leaders and teachers participating in activities

In the December 2022 training session, CNMI PSS leaders and teachers participated in activities to build shared knowledge on best practices of data-driven decision making related to early reading.

The Improving Reading Through Data Literacy project, which began in October 2022 and will conclude in December 2023,has supported school and central office leaders in developing and piloting improved data-driven decision-making processes to address early reading intervention, particularly around assigning students to Tier 2 interventions. The project also builds participants' knowledge of Tier 1 literacy instruction, which are evidence-based data practices within an MTSS to improve early reading.

Throughout this first training and coaching project, PSS central office and school staff completed school-level self-assessments on early literacy interventions using this REL Southeast tool. These self-assessments allowed the project team to identify areas of improvement in data-driven decision-making systems across the district and elementary schools. PSS leadership has also distributed several surveys to better understand current teacher knowledge of and professional learning needs around MTSS implementation. This project is guiding PSS's development of an MTSS manual and related visuals to communicate processes and expectations for school- and district-level staff, as well as a monitoring plan to support the use of the PSS manual and engagement in other MTSS efforts.

The partnership is currently in the planning stage for a second training and coaching project that will cultivate the use of formative assessments in data-driven decision-making processes to inform early reading instruction.

Applied Research

The partnership will be further supported with a study titled Evidence and Gap Map of Tier 2 Literacy Interventions for Grades K–3, in which REL Pacific will conducta systematic review of existing research literature on Tier 2 literacy interventions in the What Works Clearinghouse. The product of this study will be an evidence and gap map of Tier 2 literacy interventions and strategies. The map will show what evidence exists and where there are evidence gaps when it comes to literacy interventions that are promising for CNMI's school and demographic context. The study is expected to be published in early 2024 for CNMI and others' use in planning and identifying appropriate Tier 2 interventions.  

A proposed second study,3 CNMI PSS Evidence for Tier 2 Interventions, focuses on PSS's implementation of the Early Warning System (EWS) process for student reading outcomes, which compliments the ongoing efforts focused on improving literacy outcomes in kindergarten through grade 3. The study will support PSS by analyzing existing EWS implementation surveys, as well as PSS student reading outcomes and Tier 2 interventions implementation, to inform professional learning, training, and coaching of school teams using the EWS process.


To contribute to a common understanding of key factors and considerations for building a stronger culture of data use at the classroom, school, and systemwide levels, the partnership developed a fact sheet, Supporting a Culture of Data Literacy and Use to Improve Instructional Quality, with a focus data use for K–3 student literacy instruction and learning outcomes.

Additionally, PSS leaders invited REL Pacific to co-present with them at the 2023 STATS-DC conference, delivering a session titled Leveraging Early Literacy Data in the CNMI: Insights and Enhancements that highlighted partnership work conducted from 2017 to 2022.

About the CNMI

The CNMI is a commonwealth of the United States that includes the 14 islands of the Mariana Archipelago north of Guam. CNMI's three main inhabited islands—Rota, Tinian, and Saipan—have a total population of around 50,000 people. In the 2021/22 school year, the CNMI Public School System (PSS) enrolled 9,943 students. Read more about PSS in their 2022 Citizen Centric Report.

Moving forward

As a long-time partner with CNMI PSS, REL Pacific is honored to continue to work with PSS partners to meet their system goals. CNMI PSS is unwavering in their dedication to student success, evidenced by their comprehensive initiatives to address early literacy achievement through cultivating a systemwide culture of data use, from instructional decisions to intervention assignments to program selections. Wayfinding together in this voyage, REL Pacific and PSS continues its strong partnership that has student success as the destination in mind.

1 Read more about ways in which the Pacific traditions of voyaging across the open ocean by canoe are connected to education in this REL Pacific blog series: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

2 PSS set a 2026 goal of 60 percent of students reading at or above grade level as measured by the Renaissance STAR reading screening assessments that are administered in grades K–3.

3 As of the writing of this blog, the study proposal was in REL Peer Review.


Christina Tydeman

Christina Tydeman

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