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Using Data to Increase Student Achievement: A Case Study of Success in a Sanctioned School

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Brenda Elaine Fischer
Abstract:
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 fundamentally changed the ways in which schools are held accountable for the academic achievement of all students. Each year, millions of tests are given to students in the United States to comply with the federal accountability mandates set forth by this unprecedented federal legislation. Since these tests are so plentiful and prevalent and so much time and energy is invested in gathering results, it seems it might be possible for this multitude of data to be used for purposes other than external accountability. Might school leaders be able to utilize the data from mandated standardized tests to strategically enable schools to move toward increased student achievement across curricular goals? This qualitative case study tells the story of how teachers and administrators at one Minnesota elementary school, that was labeled in need of improvement, used a variety of data available to them to increase student academic achievement scores. Findings from this study include discussions of the factors and combination of factors that led to increased academic success. This study also includes suggestions for teachers, principals, policy makers, and institutions of higher learning, based on information gained during interviews and from the literature, for creating the conditions under which data can be used as an essential component in the ongoing challenge to increase academic achievement for all students.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. i

Dedication ................................ ................................ ................................ ........................... ii

Abstract ................................ ................................ ................................ .............................. iii

List of Tables ................................ ................................ ................................ .................... v ii

Chapter 1 . Introduction ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 1

Background ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 2

Statement of the Problem ................................ ................................ ......................... 4

Significance of the Study ................................ ................................ ......................... 4

Rationale for the Study ................................ ................................ ............................ 5

Research Questions ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 6

Operational Definition of Terms ................................ ................................ .............. 7

Assumptions and Limitations ................................ ................................ .................. 8

Nature of the Study ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 9

Organization of the Remainder of the Study ................................ ......................... 10

Chapter 2 . Literature Review ................................ ................................ ............................ 11

No Child Left Behind ................................ ................................ ............................ 12

Annual Yearly Progress in Minnesota ................................ ................................ ... 21

Reforming Elementary Schools ................................ ................................ ............. 25

Using Data ................................ ................................ ................................ ............. 29

Principals as Leaders: From Lo w - Achieving to High - Performing ........................ 34

v

Professional Development ................................ ................................ ..................... 36

Summary ................................ ................................ ................................ ................ 38

Chapter 3 . Methodology ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 40

Design of the Study ................................ ................................ ................................ 41

Sampling ................................ ................................ ................................ ................ 42

Instrumentation ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 43

Validity and Reliability ................................ ................................ .......................... 45

Data Collection ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 46

Data Analysis ................................ ................................ ................................ ......... 47

Ethical Considerations ................................ ................................ ........................... 48

Chapter 4 . Data Collection a nd Analysis ................................ ................................ .......... 50

Demographic Context ................................ ................................ ............................ 51

Study Participants ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 56

Presentation of the Data ................................ ................................ ......................... 57

Major Themes ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 60

Correlation with Concurrent Research ................................ ................................ .. 74

Chapter 5 . Results, Conclusions, a nd Recommendations ................................ ................. 80

Results ................................ ................................ ................................ .................... 83

Conclusions ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 90

Recommendations, Suggestions, a nd Considerations ................................ ............ 92

References ................................ ................................ ................................ ........................ 105

Appendi ces

Appendix A .

Invitation Letter – Principal ................................ .......................... 114

vi

Appendix B .

Invitation Letter – Teachers ................................ .......................... 116

Appendix C .

Principal Interview Guide ................................ ............................. 118

Appendix D .

Teacher Interview Guide ................................ ............................... 122

Appendix E .

Informed Consent Form ................................ ................................ . 12 5

vii

List of Tables

Table

Page

1.

Title I Schools in Need of Improvement ................................ ............................... 23

2.

AYP Proficiency Results for MCA Scores in Reading and Math ......................... 54

USING DATA TO INCREASE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

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Chapter 1.

Introduction

The accountability measures put forth in the No Child Left Behi nd Act (NCLB) have demanded principals and teachers carefully examine how all students are perf orming on standardized tests in order to determine what they, as educational le aders, are doing to ensure their students achieve continuous academic improvement.

In 2007 alone, in order to meet the requirements of NCLB , it is estimated that students in the U.S. took 68 million tests (Scherer, 2005).

The results from these millions of tests are printed in newspapers, discussed at local coffee shops, and analyzed o n the evening news.

The results are used to label schools as successful or in need of improvement.

Th ese tests hold tremendous power, both real and perceived , over schools .

Since these tests are so plentiful and prevalent, and so much time and energy is invested in gathering results, educators demonstrate appropriate professionalism in seeking to use

this unprecedented multitude of data for purposes beyond external accountability .

How then, m ight school leaders be able to utilize the data from mandated standardized tests to strategically enable schools to move toward increased student achievement across curricular goals?

This case study investigate d the ways in which a low - performing elementary school used the results from their state mandated tes ts when those scores deemed the school in need of improvement. This study examine d the fac tors and combination of factors the principal and teachers attribute to their success in improving academic

USING DATA TO INCREASE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

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achievement scores, resulting in their removal from the need s improvement federal sanctions list.

Background

On January 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signed the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) under the new title of NCLB , with bipartisan support.

NCLB linked government funding via Titles 1 - 10 to high stakes testing with new accountability measures designed to ensure no American child is left behind academically.

The overall goal of NCLB

is for all students to achieve proficient levels of knowledge and abilities in core subjects by 2014.

Schools across the U.S. have been struggling since 2002 to deal with the demands of the required high stakes testing and the acco untability system enacted by

NCLB . S tudents are required to take a multitude of test s to prove academic achievement, and schools need to report results that evidence ongoing improvement.

Schools receiving significant Title I funds are most accountable when their scores fall below proficient level.

These schools face reduction or elimina tion of impactful federal funding.

NCLB

requires each state to create a set of standards, generate and administer assessments that measure attainment of those standards, and to disaggregate the state, district, and school site results into the measured su bgroups: (a) gender, (b) ethnicity, (c)

limited - English proficiency status, (d) migrant status, (e) disability , and (f) economic status.

These disaggregated results from the state standardized tests are used to determine if a school meets adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward proficiency for all by 2014.

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Each U . S . state defines AYP for their own schools and school districts by setting the level of student achievement for each of the measured subgroups (U.S. Department of Education, 2007).

Schools attain AYP status if the students in each of the measured subgroups meet the targets for the percent of students meeting or exceeding the standards on the state assessments in reading and mathematics, as well as meeting the participation and the attendance or gra duation requirements (Minnesota Department of Education, 2009).

This information is made public to provide a measure of accountability.

As the requirements continue to increase each year, the number of schools being identified as not making AYP and needs improvement also increases.

Depending upon the number of years AYP is not met, schools in need of improvement must offer a range of options to students, including school choice with transportation, supplemental services and restructuring (Minnesota Depar tment of Education, 2009).

In the last few decades the information age has provided tremendous growth in the data now available about schools and student achievement (Earl & Katz, 2006).

It is

now nearly impossible to attend an educational conference or r ead an educational journal without being told how to use data to drive your decision

making (Hess, 2009).

With the massive amount of data now available, school leaders face questions as to how to best sort through it to find and use the data that will be most beneficial (Hess, 2009).

NCLB has distinctly changed the use of data - based and data - informed decision making in two fundamental ways.

First, there is an abundance of student achievement data available for schools to analyze, and second, NCLB has crea ted an accountability

USING DATA TO INCREASE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

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climate, a call to action, where there are rewards and sanctions for student progress toward achievement goals (Goldri n g & Berends, 2009).

Statement of the Problem

The accountability testing demanded by NCLB

has illuminated the need f or schools to increase the achievement of all students.

But identifying a need for improvement is significantly different from providing answers for how improvement will occur.

How can individual schools accomplish the daunting task of improving academic

achievement for all students?

Might the data received from accountability testing in conjunction with the larg e amount of data from within schools be used to make informed decisions and create systems in schools that will increase academic achievement?

Many experts agree schools that are able to use data to take charge of change are more effective an d improve more rapidly than those that are not (Gray et

al., 1999 , Rosenholtz, 1989 ,

Stoll & Fink, 1996 , as cited in Earl & Katz, 2006).

Determining what th e use of data could be and what leadership should know and do about achievement data in order to take effective charge of change has not yet been determined.

Significance of the Study

In 2009, the results from the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments

(MCA) report that 45% of Minnesota’s schools are not making AYP (Minnesota Department of Education, 2010 a ).

Nearly half of Minnesota’s 2 , 303 schools are already at risk for not achieving the 100% proficiency target by 2014.

If this trend continues, each year m ore and more schools will find themselves labeled as not making AYP

as proficiency targets

USING DATA TO INCREASE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

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continue to rise .

By investigating the means by which one low - performing elementary school was able to use data to improve students’ academic achievement, this stud y has add ed to the research currently available in this area.

There is a desperate need for teachers and administrators throughout the state of Minnesota to have research available on effective means by which schools have used data to increase the achieve ment of their students.

Rationale for the Study

At its core, this study wa s about discovering how one school addressed a problem, an incredibly large problem nearly half of the schools in Minnesota are also facing.

While t his problem is widespread in its scope, its solutions are deeply unique to each school, its staff, leadership, and the population it serves.

Were there one magic solution to improving academic achievement in all students across all subgroups, certainly school leaders ac ross the country would be utilizing that solution.

But there is not one right answer, n or one program that works for all students in all classrooms in all schools in all school districts.

Each school is facing its own unique challenges.

Wheatley (1999) asserts organizations are rarely if ever changed by imposing a model developed elsewhere; for schools to be successful in making positive changes, schools must look internally.

This study examined the processe s and procedures a school leader, together wit h her teaching staff, used to systematically gather and analyze data.

It investigate d how

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they used th ese data to engage in ongoing, systemic reform efforts that led to increased student academic achievement resulting in the school meeting AYP .

The hypoth esis is that systematically utilizing a combination of large scale assessment data, in combination with data focusing on student learning available from within schools, an overall picture of student needs will be available with which to make decisions that will lead to increased academic achievement.

Bernhardt (2009) suggests learning does not take place in isolation and multiple measures must be used to understand the multifaceted world of student learning from everyone involved.

She identifies four majo r measures or categories of data that are essential: ( a ) demographics, ( b ) student learning, ( c ) school processes, and ( d )

perceptions.

While o ne measure may by itself provide useful information, when u sed collectively, these measures can reveal

a powerfu l picture that helps decision makers

understand the school’s impact on student achievement.

Ultimately, according to Ber n hardt (2009) , schools need to be able to use a wide variety of data to ensure they are able to meet the needs of their students.

Research Questions

The following research questions have guided this study:

1.

How did a principal and teachers in an elementary school previously identified as not making AYP use data to increase students’ academic scores on the MCA s ,

resulting in their removal from the AYP list?

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2.

To what factors and combination of factors does the principal attribute the success in increasing student scores on the MCA s , resulting in their removal from the AYP list?

3.

To what factors and combination of fa ctors do the teachers attribute the success in increasing student scores on the MCA s , resulting in their removal from the AYP list?

4.

What identified factors correlate with concurrent research in school improvement?

Operational Definition of Terms

Accountabi lity – being held to account for both the expenditure of educational funds and for the achievement outcomes of students (Wright, 2008).

In this case, assessment that is used to hold individual students or school officials responsible for ensuring that stud ents meet standards (Nitko & Brookhart, 2007).

Achievement –

the demonstration of student performance measured against learning goals, learning objectives, or standards (Bernhardt, 2004).

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)

the means of measuring, through s tandards and assessments, the achievement of the NCLB goal of 100 % proficien cy by 2014 (Minnesota Department of Education, 2009).

Continuous School Improvement

– measuring and evaluating processes on an ongoing basis to identify, intervene, and implement i mprovement (Bernhardt, 2004).

Data –

factual information used as a basis for calculation, discussion, and reasoning (Education Commission of the State s , 2000).

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Data Driven Decision Making –

making decisions based on demographic, student learning, perceptions, and school process data (Bernhardt, 2004).

Data - informed Decision Making –

using multiple types of assessments and other data to systematically inform decisions (Ronka, Lachat, Slaughter, & Meltzer, 2009).

Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments II (MCAs) – the state developed tests measure student progress toward

Minnesota's academic standards and meet the requirements of NCLB .

No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB)

– the reauthorization of the 1965 ESEA .

NCLB calls for increased accountabilit y for states, school districts, and schools; choices for parents and students; greater flexibility for states, school districts, and schools regarding federal education funds; improving the quality of teachers; and 100% proficiency for all students in lang uage arts and math by 2014 (Bernhardt, 2004).

School Reform –

a plan or movement that attempts to bring about a systemic change in educational practices.

Assumptions and Limitations

The following assumptions are made for this research study:

1.

The principal and teachers interviewed provide honest, thoughtful information during the interviews.

Steps were taken to establish trust and rapport prior to the interviews taking place.

2.

The information provided through district, state, and n ational websi tes wa s accurate.

In order to verify th ese data, the data was triangulated.

USING DATA TO INCREASE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

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The following limitation is inherent in this research study:

1.

The principal and teachers interviewed were from one elementary school in northern Minnesota that failed to meet AYP and in turn attempted to use assessment data to increase academic achievement in their school.

The principal and teachers are not representative of all elementary schools in Minnesota.

Nature of the Study

The purpose of this qua litative case study wa s to tell the story of how one low - performing elementary school used data to improve academic scores on the MCA s, which resulted in the school’s removal from the needs improvement list.

Data was

collected using interviews and document analysis.

Case stud y research involves the study of an issue explored through one or more cases within a bounded system over time through detailed, in - depth data collection involving multiple sources of information (Creswell, 2007).

Gall, Gall, and Borg (2007) state, “A goo d case study brings a phenomenon to life for readers, and helps them understand its meaning” (p. 434).

The case study draws from a variety of work in psychology, sociology, medicine, law , and political science.

The need for case study research arises out of the desire to understand complex social phenomenon (Yin, 2003).

Researchers generally conduct case studies for one of three purposes: (a) to produce detailed descriptions of a phenomenon, (b) to develop possible explanations of it, or (c) to evaluate the phenomenon (Gall et al. , 2007).

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Organization of the Remainder of the Study

The remainder of this study is divided into chapters.

Chapter 2 presents a literature review beginning with the history leading up to NCLB .

It focuses on the major themes tha t provide a context for this study.

Examined themes include (a) the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 in its historical and current context, (b) t he accountability measures used in Minnesota, (c ) the history and current thinking on school reform efforts, ( d ) the importance of systematically collecting and using data to inform decisions in schools , and (e ) means and effects by which leadership plays roles in cultivating data use within schools.

Chapter 3 delineates the methodology chosen to complete this st udy.

The framework for this research is a qualitative case study. The third chapter provides specifications for the conduct of the interviews, validation procedures, and processes for analysis. Procedures for the collection, transcription, and storage o f transcriptions and documents are included. Considerations taken for research on human subjects is also explained.

Chapter 4 presents the context, analysis and findings from the study. Data obtained from interview questions are synthesized and re - told. An explanation of themes emerging from the data is presented as well.

Chapter 5 provides a summary of the findings and identifies possible implications for principals, teachers, policy makers, and institutions of higher education. Chapter 5 also identifies possible areas for future research.

USING DATA TO INCREASE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

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Chapter 2.

Literature Review

On January 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signed NCLB with bipartisan support.

This act fundamentally changed the ways in which schools are held accountable for the academic achievement of all students.

The act itself and the ways in which schools have struggled to deal with implications arising from this act are the focus of this l iterature review.

This literature review address es six themes:

1.

Theme one focuses on NCLB

in its context.

The history of the legislation is reviewed as well as its status as the current governing legislation .

2.

Theme two provides insight into Minnesota’s ed ucational accountability system.

A brief history of the standards movement as well as the ways in which Minnesota is currently managing NCLB

mandates.

3.

Theme three investigates school reform efforts in elementary schools.

This theme highlights ways in whi ch schools attempted to reform in the past, what research articulates regarding school reform efforts, and what has worked in the past for elementary schools seeking to make reform.

4.

Theme four discusses the use of data in schools.

A synthesis of the resea rch currently available about the use of data to inform decision making processes is presented.

5.

Theme five defines the role of elementary principal as leader in school reform efforts.

Examples of principals who have been successful in reform efforts are s hared in

USING DATA TO INCREASE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

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conjunction with research defining the role of the elementary principal as a leader in reform efforts.

6.

Theme six identifies the rationale for professional development in attempting school reform efforts.

A new definition of professional developm ent is presented as well as an assortment of research identifying the key characteristics of effective professional development.

No Child Left Behind

NCLB

is the eighth and newest iteration of a decades - old education law, the ESEA, and is often cited as th e most ambitious federal education law ever enacted (Guilfoyle, 2006; Hess & Petrilli, 2006; McGuinn, 2006; Weaver, 2006; Zhao, 2009).

NCLB links government funding to high stakes testing with explicit accountability measures designed to ensure no child i s left behind.

The overall goal of NCLB

is for all high school students to achieve proficient levels of knowledge and abilities in core subjects by 2014.

NCLB

originates from the ESEA of 1965.

This piece of legislation was part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty and emphasized educational opportunities for poor children.

ESEA was not meant to be a general package of aid to all schools; the allocation formulas directed assistance to the local school districts with the greatest proportions of poor ch ildren.

The funds were purposely distributed through the state to avoid the perception that the federal government was intervening in the rights and obligations of states to provide public education (McGuinn, 2006).

USING DATA TO INCREASE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

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The original ESEA included five specifi c areas of entitlement, referred to as Titles.

Title I served as the heart of the law, providing funds to aid in the education of disadvantaged children, Title II provided funds to purchase instructional resources, Title III supported the development of i nnovative curriculum and instructional techniques, Title IV funded grants to strengthen the capabilities of state education agencies , and Title V provided financial support for educational research (Hess & Petrilli, 2006; McGuinn, 2006).

The majority of E SEA spending was allocated to Title I, which helped pay for compensatory education programs targeted at our nation’s most economically disadvantaged students (Hess & Petrilli, 2006; McGuinn, 2006).

Title I funding, while aimed at improving education for s tudents who are most underprivileged, was distributed using a formula that provided at least some money to 94% of all school districts in the country (Hess & Petrilli, 2006).

Concern over the ways in which schools were using funds intended for education o f the most disadvantaged students was widespread nearly from the inception of ESEA (Hess & Petrilli, 2006; McGuinn, 2006).

While the goal of ESEA was very clear — to improve educational opportunities for the poor, the legislation on how this goal was to b e achieved was vague.

School districts were not held accountable directly for the ways in which they were using Title I funds or the effectiveness of those programs (Hess & Petrilli, 2006; McGuinn, 2006).

Like all federal legislation, ESEA had to be reau thorized at regular intervals.

Subsequent reauthorizations continued to add new provisions and to expand the law, but the basic

USING DATA TO INCREASE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

14

fundamental design stayed the same throughout the 1960s and 1970s (Hess & Petrilli, 2006).

In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education, appointed by then Secretary of Education T.H. Bell, came out with its ominous report on American education.

The report, entitled A Nation at Risk: The Imperative of School Reform , reported that American school children were at ri sk of falling behind our worldwide competitors in the areas of commerce, industry, science , and technology.

The report called for high standards that would develop the talents of all to their fullest and that schools have genuinely high standards rather t han minimum ones (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983).

A Nation at Risk emphasized while education had been primarily a local and state issue, the dire performance of American students was most certainly a national problem (McGuinn, 2006 ).

A Nation at Risk shifted the focus from merely providing additional funding to support schools to widespread school reform efforts as the answer to improving education in our nation’s schools.

This focused effort to reform schools and to focus on stan dards and outcomes led to the development of the reauthorization of ESEA in 1994, which included the Goals 2000: Educate America Act (Hess & Petrilli, 2006, McGuinn, 2006).

Goals 2000, coupled with the 1994 reauthorization of the ESEA which was titled Impr oving America’s Schools Act (IASA) , required each state to establish challenging content and performance standards and to implement assessments to measure students’ performance against those standards (McGuinn, 2006; North Central Regional

USING DATA TO INCREASE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

15

Educational Labo ratory, n.d.).

The required assessments needed to be aligned with content standards and administered at some poin t between grades 3 and 5, between grades 6 and 9, and once again between grades 10 and 12.

Performance on these assessments need to be disagg regated within states, districts, and schools by (a) gender, (b) race, (c) limited - English - proficient status, (d) migrant status, (e) disability, and (f)

economic status.

States were also responsible for creating a plan to describe what constituted AYP in their particular state (McGuinn, 2006).

Disadvantaged students in Title I schools would be expected to make progress toward the challenging content and performance standards expected of other students in the state (McGuinn, 2006).

The Obey - Porter Act , also known as the Comprehensive School Reform (CSR) Act , quickly followed on the heels of the 1994 reauthorization of ESEA.

This act established the Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration Program (CSRD) which allowed schools to apply for federal fund s to be used to purchase services from independent whole school reform developers who devised research - based programs that aligned school governance, curriculum, and instructional practice (Gross, Booker, & Goldhaber, 2009).

The CSRD program provided thre e - year grants for schools to implement one of several CSRD designs.

The appeal of this type of school - wide reform effort was due in large part to the relatively poor outcomes of earlier reforms that appeared to be fragmented and disjointed (Gross et al. , 2009; Keltner, 1998).

After doling out more than $1.8 billion to more than 6,700 schools across the country, the federal government began phasing out funding for CSR D in 2006 (Gross et al. , 2009).

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CSR , however, or at least contracting with an external ag ent , still remains as one of the recommended reform options available to schools required to restructure when they enter in their fifth consecutive year of failing to meet AYP under NCLB (Gross et al. , 2009).

In 1999, ESEA was up for reauthorization once a gain.

Positions on the ESEA debate broke into three camps: (a) conservative Republicans wanted to give states more discretion, give parents more choice, and decrease federal red tape; (b) liberal Democrats wanted additional federal funding, additional pro grams , and increased safeguards that those monies would go to the most disadvantaged students; and (c) President Bill Clinton and moderates from both sides wanted increased funding and flexibility in tandem with testing and accountability measures (McGuinn , 2006).

With the 2000 presidential elections closely looming, all of these proposals were left behind (Hess & Petrilli, 2006).

Full document contains 138 pages
Abstract: The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 fundamentally changed the ways in which schools are held accountable for the academic achievement of all students. Each year, millions of tests are given to students in the United States to comply with the federal accountability mandates set forth by this unprecedented federal legislation. Since these tests are so plentiful and prevalent and so much time and energy is invested in gathering results, it seems it might be possible for this multitude of data to be used for purposes other than external accountability. Might school leaders be able to utilize the data from mandated standardized tests to strategically enable schools to move toward increased student achievement across curricular goals? This qualitative case study tells the story of how teachers and administrators at one Minnesota elementary school, that was labeled in need of improvement, used a variety of data available to them to increase student academic achievement scores. Findings from this study include discussions of the factors and combination of factors that led to increased academic success. This study also includes suggestions for teachers, principals, policy makers, and institutions of higher learning, based on information gained during interviews and from the literature, for creating the conditions under which data can be used as an essential component in the ongoing challenge to increase academic achievement for all students.