Schools around the country are using key data on students’ performance in the classroom to inform how they can better meet the needs of individual students. In Nashville, data are also improving how students are served beyond the classroom and in the community, thanks to the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), a partnership between Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), Nashville Public Library, the Mayor’s Office, and afterschool program providers in the city.
Launched in 2010 by the Nashville Mayor’s Office and later housed in the Public Library as a strategy to improve the city’s high school graduation rate, NAZA has become one of the country’s most renowned expanded-learning systems for middle schoolers. During the school year, NAZA supports program staff in delivering high-quality academic components within their daily programming, much of which focuses on building students 21st century skills, according to NAZA Coordinator Anna Harutyunyan. NAZA also offers coaching, professional development, culture building, evaluation tools, and curriculum resources in the areas of STEM and literacy.
At the heart of the partnership is a data-sharing agreement in MNPS shares data on participating students’ grades, behavior, and other key information with the afterschool program staff who work with the students. According to Laura Hansen, Director of Information Management and Decision Support for MNPS, “One of our goals was always to strengthen the communication between the classroom and afterschool programs to enable collaboration in understanding student needs, and directing services and instruction to meet those needs.”
Along those lines, in some cases, the afterschool program staff and classroom teachers work closely together to design strategies for supporting students, based on their data. “The program staff and the teachers dig into the testing scores for those individual students, to see where they tested in the beginning of the year or the end of the previous year,” explains Jim Williamson, a Zone Director at the PENCIL Foundation, a Nashville afterschool program provider. “They team up together to determine what that student needs in the program.”
Teachers who work with the program providers report that being involved with NAZA’s programs has a positive impact on their work with students in the classroom. For example, teachers of English language learners often find that having a better understanding of these students’ experiences outside of school helps them tailor their supports for these students. “It helps foster much stronger, positive adult-student relationships,” says Williamson. “A teacher can focus on what goes on in that student’s daily life and help build those conversational English skills around the things that the young person is experiencing on a regular basis.”
The data-sharing process between the schools and the providers also helps NAZA track the impact that providers have on students. “We can look and see how a student’s performance—their grades, their behavior—has changed once they’ve been engaged in a program for 30 days, 60 days, and so on,” says Williamson. These metrics, along with results from student surveys about the programs they’re involved in and data on student attendance and retention rates, contribute to evaluations of the programs’ quality, which in turn help the programs target their improvement efforts.
Preliminary findings indicate that students who regularly attend NAZA programs are more likely to have improved school attendance, fewer behavior incidents, and improved math and science grades. Building on these promising results, NAZA and MNPS are now looking to improve how data flows back to teachers, enabling them to receive more information on students’ performance in afterschool programs. As Williamson says, when everyone in a community works together to find the best ways to support students, “it’s a win-win situation.”