At Carl Harvey Elementary, Data Drive Learning

(Far Left) Teacher on Special Assignment, Lucia Cortes, describes the working relationship at Carl Harvey as as more than a team. "We're a family here. And we have our differences, but we talk about it, we deal with it," Cortes said. Standing with Cortes (from left) are kindergarten teacher Margarita Gest, Principal Teresa Stetler, and special ed teacher Karla Ledon.

Seasoned educators have a sixth sense about what works in the classroom.
At Carl Harvey Elementary School, in Santa Ana, California, the faculty of experienced teachers combine intuition with analysis of ongoing test results to determine students’ needs.

The approach works. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education named Carl Harvey Elementary a Blue Ribbon School.

Special education teacher Karla Ledon credits the school’s Data-Driven Instruction program for the school’s success. “We’re using weekly tests with some students, to see if what we’re using is effective,” said Ledon. “And I think that has created an immense knowledge for us as to what to use – because not every student is a cookie-cutter learner.”

All curricula start with assessments. At the beginning of the school year, kindergarten and first-grade teachers review the second-grade scores to identify areas of focus for future second-graders, according to Margarita Gest, kindergarten teacher. “There’s never a blame game,” explained Gest. “We ask, ‘Okay, what’s the next goal?'” Principal Teresa Stetler agreed. “We don’t have any lone wolves here. Everybody works together as a team. And we found out we can accomplish a lot more if we listen to one another, support one another,” she said.

Ultimately, Carl Harvey’s success depends on everyone – teachers, support staff, principal and parents – taking responsibility. Stetler, who started at the school as assistant principal, recalls earlier excuses for why students were not learning to their potential. “We tended to make a lot of window statements: ‘Oh, it’s because they’re second-language learners,’ ‘Oh, it’s because of their socio-economic backgrounds,’ ‘Oh, it’s because we don’t have the fancy computers.’ Now we’re making mirror statements. ‘What can I do to be able to have that child be successful? How can I change my instruction? How do I know I’m meeting the educational needs of that student?’ That was the big, major change – taking responsibility.”

Joe Barison

Joe Barison is director of communications and outreach for the Department of Education’s Region IX office, based in San Francisco. He is a former teacher in the Continuation High School Program of the Los Angeles Unified School District.


  1. I currently work in a public school in a district that claims to be “data driven”. We are constantly assessing the learning of the students to the point we sometimes feel we are testing more than we are teaching. I fully understand and support the concept of pre- and post tests for new units. However, we give three math and three language arts tests every nine weeks written by the district. The data is sometimes informative; however, many times we have not covered the material on the test yet. How do you manage your assessments so the teachers and students do not feel overly tested? How do you ensure the material has been covered prior to its administration?

    We also have staff development annually where we do vertical planning. This is when we meet with the teachers at a grade level below us and discuss with them difficulties students are having with standards from that grade level and look for ways to improve the situation. Then we flip flop and meet with the grade above us to do the same. Is this similar to how you teachers met?

    As professionals we should not blame each other because we know learning is scaffolding. The future teachers of our students are dependent on us to be effective teachers. We also should not look for an excuse. No matter what circumstance we find ourselves in we must act accordingly to overcome them to better the lives of our students.

  2. How do I turn my classroom that struggles as well as passing the Social Studies state exam?

    How can I help my school?

    How can I acquire an administrative job?

    I need ideas to help a troubled school?

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