Data Analytics

Diving Deep into Data to Support Students

By changing its approach to data and assessment, Maunawili Elementary School has been able to fine-tune instruction, better engage students, and find interventions that work.

At Maunawili Elementary School in Hawai'i, students are performing higher than state averages in language arts, (74% vs 52%), math (74% vs 48%), and science (84% vs 46%), according to state assessment data. The school has built a mindset around data to support students' academic, behavioral, and social-emotional needs, work that recently earned a 2023 Blue Ribbon award from the United States Department of Education. We sat down with Maunawili Principal Kau'i Tanaka to find out more about the school's 360-degree approach to helping students learn.

Campus Technology: Maunawili Elementary was named a National Blue Ribbon School for your work leveraging data to support students. How did that come about?

Kau'i Tanaka: Ten years ago, we went through a big change — we were reading Carol Dweck's book about the growth mindset, so that's kind of where it started. We started looking at data in a different way than we were looking at data before, and then over the years, we've gotten a whole lot better at surface data, and then into deeper-dive data, and understanding our students. Looking at that data and knowing our kids academically, behaviorally, socially — all of that helped us to get a good grip on what we needed to do to support our students. And winning Blue Ribbon really has been a collaborative effort with everyone and all the things that we do here at Maunawili.

CT: Can you elaborate on your old way of viewing data versus the new? How is it different?

Tanaka: This was at a time when, at least in Hawaii, elementary school students were being graded A, B, C, D, F — and sometimes that doesn't give enough information. So we were piloting a new report card and were going through standards-based grading, which was just a very different way of grading and a mind shift. In the traditional way, for example, you had a series of 10 math problems, you corrected them, and whatever you got right or wrong, you got a percentage and then that was your grade. If you got a 20%, you got a letter grade to show the 20%. Standards-based grading really required us to look at kids differently: Even if you're at a 20%, what is the true acquisition of knowledge that you're getting to mastery?

When we started to look at standards-based grading and look at grading differently, we had to look at data differently. If you pack a parachute 10 times, do you want to grade the first time you packed it, or do you want the grade to be based on packing over time to show consistency and mastery, versus a one-time score of 20% or 50% or 100%? If someone is not doing well at packing the parachute all the time, but does well toward the end, I might want that person to pack my parachute, rather than an average over time. So, different ways of thinking about data.

And then over time, we got better at really looking at data. Seventy-eight percent of our students might be passing or proficient in math (that's not necessarily our scores). If I take that apart and look better at the data, I could be able to tell you, within that 78% of students who are proficient, what does it look like in numbers and operations? How do I make students better in that area, or geometry, or so forth? So we got better at knowing where to find better information to know more about our kids.

CT: How have you looked to technology to help with data and student success?

Tanaka: Luckily at Maunawili we are a pretty tech-savvy faculty and staff. When we started looking at data differently, Panorama really helped us to understand our students and where they're at: how they're feeling at our school, whether they feel they belong, do they know how to get the help they need, do they have the grit to do what they need to do to be a good student. Panorama gives us that 360-degree view of all the things that we need to know in order to support our students and be there for them in the ways that they need.

We started bringing in different technology: We moved into laptops; we shifted to smartboards. And then we started diving deeper into, well, what can we do from here? We were into Google — Google Calendar, Google Classroom — then COVID hit and we moved to a virtual setting. Now, our classroom teachers really utilize the laptop. Our students have iPads. They have laptops as well; they use Chromebooks. They are on Google Classroom. Our families use Seesaw. We are good at adopting the tools that will make things better or easier for us as teachers and the tools that will be better for students and their learning. We have to know that this is their world. If we're not caught up on technology to understand their world, then we're not doing them the service that they need in their learning and where they're going to be in terms of technology two years down the road, five years down the road, 10 years down the road. So we try to do our part to capture that whole child.

CT: How have teachers responded to changing the way you're looking at grading?

Tanaka: There were a lot of conversations around the fact that if we do things the same way over and over, then we're going to get the same results. It's about building the mindset around that change. As faculty and staff, we even read the book Who Moved My Cheese? just to get our minds ready, because change is hard sometimes. We have to have the mindset that we can always be better, and sometimes being better means change. So there's a lot of conversation around that to get ready, and then our teachers will jump on board with that. From there, they will research something or look into something and they will take off. Eventually I just become the cheerleader on the side, saying, "Yes, that's exactly what we're trying to do, please go for that," rather than having to convince people. My teachers will see it and then they'll run with it.

CT: What have you learned from analyzing student data that you've then used to inform instructional approaches?

Tanaka: Our teachers are really good at knowing our students, and data of course helps with that. We are good at knowing what kids need in the classroom and providing interventions at the right time in the right moment. Sometimes, though, we have to look deeper.

For instance, we heard from students that they wanted to know more about careers. Besides ELA, math, science, and social studies, what comes after elementary school? Within our pipeline from K to 12, we wanted students to be able to explore professions, so that by the time you get to high school, you can really advocate for yourself and what you want to be when you grow up — and get out and go to college or to trade school, wherever life might take you. We gave a career interest survey to our students, and then using that data, we created pathways. We have about a dozen of them now; they range from exploring what a veterinarian might do, to leadership. We have a garden club, and a pathway based on that. We have a dozen different areas that students from fourth grade to sixth grade get into — and this is the result of data.

Another example from this school year in particular: We were having some issues with attendance, behaviors in the lunchroom, and things like that. Through data and looking at what's going on, we then created different incentives — things to motivate kids to get to school on time, so we can bring down our tardies. Kids behave differently in the cafeteria based on some of the incentives around that as well. So again, looking at the data and really knowing our kids, we're able to target the needs we have, whether that's academic behavioral, or just exploring what things might look like for students down the road.

CT: What does your data process look like? Do you have a regular schedule where you get together and look at data for making decisions?

Tanaka: We meet weekly by grade levels; we call them learning teams. The learning teams look at classroom data, they'll give a common formative assessment, and as a grade level, they will look at how their students are doing on that standards-based assessment. And then they will discuss interventions: What can we do to help this group of kids understand? It even gets down to conversations between teachers saying, "Your kids really understood that assessment. What did you do to help them? Because I think I might need to do that with my class."

We also have a student focus team meeting, or SFT, every other week, where different role groups come to the table — our admin, counselors, response to intervention coordinator, school psychologist — and we have conversations on the data of kids' academic and behavioral performance. Any response to student interventions, we look at that data: How are they doing? How are they progressing? If they're not progressing, what are we going to do about it?

We also meet quarterly on the status of our academic plan, and we have an MTSS cadre that also looks at data quarterly around academics, behavior, etc. As a school we really wrap around when it comes to data and what the data is saying to us in many different forms and factions, so that we can get a good picture of our kids — and find those identified areas of need so we can provide the intervention.

CT: Do you have any lessons that you've learned through this process that other schools might benefit from?

Tanaka: What helped us is the mindsets: the mindsets of teachers to really look at data, understand students and where they're at, and embrace change. I might be doing great things in my classroom, but I need to be able to look at that in the moment and say, "That might not be reaching this group of kids, or it might not be reaching this particular learner." Sometimes it's hard for teachers to ask themselves the question, "What is the thing that I'm missing to reach this kid?" It's about having the mindset to look at data beyond the surface, even though going deeper might mean that there's a problem I need to fix — which is not necessarily a bad thing. It's an opportunity to fix something or reach more people.

If you really, truly have that mindset, then you can start to look at things differently. Let the data speak to you, and hear what your students are trying to tell you. If you open up to what the data can tell you, then you can find what you need.