We spend a lot of time in schools working with principals and teachers. Each member of our team can tell a story about how the mere mention of “data” or “assessment” sucked the air out of a room and shut down conversation.

There’s a stigma about data. Maybe it’s the fact that data and assessments are all tied up in numbers, and if you look at the research, the majority of us just don’t believe we’re good with numbers. Or it could be the fact that many of studies we read about effective methodologies come from scholarly articles that contain phrases like, “linear regressions,” or “hierarchical linear modeling” or “multiple regression formula.” They all talk about “limitations.”

Let’s face it, many people are just not comfortable speaking about data. But if we truly believe “every child can learn at high levels,” we need to become comfortable with assessments and data.  Assessments deliver vital information (aka, data) about each and every child. Knowing what each piece of data means and how to use it is the fastest and most direct path to realizing high outcomes for all students.

EDWorks uses these primary questions about assessment to help leaders and teachers learn to integrate data analysis into their daily practice. Basically, assessments answer these primary questions:

  • Where are we today? (baseline data)
  • Where are we going? (goals/desired outcomes)
  • How far is it? (the gap between current performance and the desired outcome plus the length of time to achieve the goals)
  • How far have we come? (progress reports, periodic updates)
  • Are we there yet? (evidence that we’ve achieved our goals, summative data)

By understanding the various types of assessments and using them well, the adults and students in a school community can answer these questions with confidence and specificity.

The EDWorks Fast Track Early College High School is focused on student learning and achievement. Drawing on the lessons of nationally-recognized researchers and practitioners like Richard DuFour, Rick Stiggins, Judy Wurtzel, Robert Marzano, and others, EDWorks has developed a protocol for use in Professional Learning Communities that effectively provides both assessment of learning and assessment for learning.

The EDWorks hands-on system of leadership and professional development supports sites in the effective use and, as appropriate, development of the following balanced system of assessments and reports.

Data used to inform teaching and learning at the classroom level:

  • Baseline diagnostic data
  • Common Assessments
  • Classroom Assessment
  • Performance-Based Assessment
  • Results of Online and Blended Assessments
  • Teacher Self-Assessment of Practice and Student Performance

Data used by the District, State and National bodies to judge school effectiveness over time:

  • State-Mandated end of course and/or graduation tests
  • College and career readiness assessments (ACT WorkKeys, Compass, Accuplacer, ACT, SAT, etc.)

The greatest professional development emphasis in the EDWorks system of aligned assessments revolves around helping teachers and students employ assessment for learning.

  • Teachers design assessments every day as part of the instructional process. EDWorks begins by helping teachers view themselves as assessment professionals and designers as they plan their classroom learning experiences. By increasing teachers’ knowledge and skills in assessment, EDWorks can help them gather better data from their students about knowledge and skills gained through the learning experience.
  • Once teachers have an understanding of strong assessment design, EDWorks helps them articulate achievement standards and goals for students before they actually teach a course, unit or lesson. Approaching assessment in this fashion actually motivates students to achieve and take responsibility for their own learning.
  • Over time, EDWorks helps teachers use multiple sources of data to adjust their classroom instruction to better meet student needs.
  • Through the full system of aligned assessments, teachers and students can communicate their learning and achievements more effectively with each other, their parents/guardians and the community.

This focus on multiple strategies of assessment for learning increases the insights of leaders, teachers and students about the assessment process, leading to a purpose-driven, motivational, high-performing learning environment.


I just recently learned about a program, Juma Ventures, that’s focused on ensuring first generation students complete college. They share a large collection of Juma success stories. My hat’s off to the Juma coaches who work every day to make the dream of college education a reality for so many students!

If I close my eyes and listen as Juma Venture’s students tell their stories, I feel like I’m listening to our Early College High School students and the EDWorks coaches who work with them, their teachers and their higher education partners.

Juma Ventures began its work in 1993, long before the current federal emphasis on college completion and a full decade before we launched our first Early College High School. Juma knew then what we all know today – college access is necessary, but not sufficient. Unfortunately for the students with whom EDWorks and Juma most often work, those who will be the first in their families to attend college, getting into college does not consistently result in college degree attainment. In fact, currently fewer than 60 percent of students entering four-year institutions of higher education complete a degree within six years[1] Even more alarming, only 13% of low-income and minority students (who are so often first in their families to enroll in college) who enter the ninth grade will go on to complete college.[2]

The barriers to degree attainment for first-generation college-going students are many and complex. People often point to the fact that many of the students we serve aren’t academically prepared for college or they don’t have the financial resources to finance a college education. Others point out that many first-generation students must work fulltime to help support their families while they attend college. All that’s true. But even when students have the financial resources, technical knowledge and skills to be successful in college, the road is difficult.

In addition to academic knowledge and skill, college success requires, among other things:

  • Persistence and resilience, trying again and again until you get it right. Picking yourself up and looking for another solution.
  • The courage to ask for help, whether it’s in the classroom or the college writing lab or the bursar’s office.
  • The self-confidence to keep moving forward, even if you don’t immediately have the answer.
  • The attention to detail that ensures you follow the steps and meet deadlines for assignments or college applications.

Building these “soft” skills takes time and attention, but they are just as important as academics. That’s why EDWorks chooses to begin the journey to college completion when students enter the ninth grade, through its Fast Track Early College High Schools. By the time Early College students graduate from high school, they have already developed the persistence, resilience, self-confidence and attention to detail that’s fundamental to college completion. Those “soft skills” propel 87% of our Early College students to an undergraduate degree in two-to-three years after high school – far ahead of their national peers.

Programs like Juma Ventures and EDWorks Fast Track Early College High Schools are making the dream of college a reality for so many more students.


[1] http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/02/obama_ed_credential.html

[2] NCES, NAEP, EPERC (most recent CPI graduation rates), NELS 1988-2000.Note: Data for minority students only include Black and Hispanic students and does not include other minority ethnicities Note: Data estimated by applying historical longitudinal rates to current estimates of the high school cohort. Low-income young adults defined as 26 year olds who had a family income of less than $25K when starting high school (i.e., qualified for free/reduced lunch)


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