by Shawn Thomas and Susan Dawson
E3 Alliance is recognized in Central Texas, across the state, and increasingly nationally, as a reliable source for analyzing and providing objective data that informs community action to improve student outcomes. As our work has matured, we have discovered that sometimes, the most actionable information may be derived from findings that are the least intuitive. A great example is shown here. With the support of the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, we worked over the last few years to provide school districts in Central Texas and other parts of the state, what has now become some of the most robust student academic growth modeling in the country. These growth data and findings have obvious application to district practice and policies. For instance, one question the data can answer is:  why do some schools have higher student growth rates compared to other similar schools in the same district? The answers to questions such as this have significantly altered the way school districts utilize data to look for replicable practices to improve campus performance for all students.  The following example will help illustrate this point.
Following is a “bubble chart” of growth outcomes in math for Central Texas elementary schools, in relation to student mobility rates of each school. The bubbles represent individual schools in our region.   The  color coding of the bubbles  indicate the percent of low income students on the given campus, ranging from red (almost all low income) to orange, yellow, green and blue (almost no low income students).
The horizontal axis  shows the relative academic growth of students on that campus with highest growth schools at the far right  The vertical axis shows  campus mobility, ranging from student mobility of almost zero at the most affluent (dark blue) schools to over 35% in some (typically much poorer) schools.

bubble graph 1(click on the slide to expand for a closer view)

The dotted red line shows the pattern that we would intuitively expect: the most stable (lowest mobility) campuses would tend to exhibit the highest student academic growth, and the highest mobility campuses, which experience almost constant student turnover, would have the lowest student growth.

bubble graph 2(click on the slide to expand for a closer view)

Instead we see more of a curvilinear relationship between mobility and growth (see solid curved red line): once student mobility reaches a certain rate – over about 20% – something very interesting happens, instead of these schools being in the Low Growth area on the chart, as expected, a significant number of them appear in the above average and High Growth areas!

bubble graph 3(click on the slide to expand for a closer view)

Have these campuses “figured out” how to lessen the disruptions of student mobility? This is exactly the kind of data we have never seen shared before, and we will be sharing with district and community leaders to identify ways to leverage these findings into campus and community action. Only through the multi-year support of MSDF would we have gotten to level of data sophistication where we may identify and take advantage of such counter-intuitive yet actionable patterns.
Shawn Thomas is the director of research for E3 Alliance. He oversees internal and external research projects and research staff, as well as ongoing data collection, analysis, presentation, and dissemination of information related to student educational outcomes to influence stakeholder decision making and policy.
Susan Dawson
Susan Dawson is the President and Executive Director of E3 Alliance.