How to Deal With Data
By Todd D. Mora, Jackie Wahl, and Richard B. Hathaway
Until the mid-1990s, Michigan’s Comstock Public Schools was considered one of the premier districts in Kalamazoo County, if not the entire state. The 3,000-student district, located in a blue-collar and agricultural community with an automobile stamping plant, consistently finished in the top 25 percent on standardized state tests and fared well in extracurricular competition, too.
Then the automobile industry started to contract. Comstock’s stamping plant was shut down, depriving the township and school district of the community’s largest employer and taxpayer. Poverty in the district increased. Across the state, manufacturing plants closed, and Michigan’s economy experienced net job losses for multiple years. Meanwhile, changes in the state funding formula for schools, and a burgeoning choice movement that led to competition for students, hampered Comstock and other districts.
Declines in student achievement and in enrollment began -- slowly at first, then at an accelerating pace. Increasingly concerned, the Comstock school board took action. It developed a data collection process that would help benchmark the district’s performance against surrounding school systems, and in turn allow the board to make decisions in a thoughtful, measured way that would improve student achievement.
This is the story of how it was done.
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