Interview with Marina Hopkins: How Does StrivePartnership Use Data to Help Improve Student Outcomes

Topics: Community Partnerships, Education Policy, ESSA

StrivePartnership is dedicated to improving student education opportunities, but realized that student voice wasn't part of the process. That's changing.In a student’s life, timely and appropriate interventions could be the difference between graduation and dropping out. It could also be the difference between a counselor’s mediation and incarceration. Effective data collection and analysis is vital to the creation, design and implementation of school interventions.

Behind every data point that a school or district collects is a child. When you’re making data-based decisions, what you’re doing is keeping the focus on the child. That can be hard to remember when you’re looking at spreadsheets and run charts or sitting in contentious meetings, but it’s important. Data-based decisions can help create an environment ripe for the success of every learner!

I’ve asked my colleague, Marina Hopkins from StrivePartnership, to speak about how she is impacting student outcomes through a project that seeks to provide a district with added capacity, targeted interventions and data support.

Drake: Thank you Marina for agreeing to chat with me today. I’m eager to learn more about the great work you’re doing with StrivePartnership.

Marina: It’s no problem. I’m glad to highlight the amazing work of our team.

Drake: We’ve traveled a total distance of three office cubical rows for this conversation, so I’m a little embarrassed we haven’t had this discussion much earlier.

Marina: Yeah! That’s right! We’ll I’m glad we waited until we had an audience.

Drake: Well, shall we begin. We can’t keep our audience waiting.

Marina: Please.

Can you first explain your role at StrivePartnership?

As the Senior Manager of Middle and High School Success, I serve as the expert on strategies and outcomes related to learning and education achievement for children age 13 to 18 within our learning ecosystem, which includes Cincinnati, and the cities of Covington and Newport, Kentucky.

In your role, who are you most often working with in these communities you’ve mentioned?

The position regularly interacts with a broad, diverse group of education practitioners, system and community leaders, parents and students to determine how effectively institutions and communities are functioning to achieve goals related to eight-grade math, high school graduation and other critical education outcomes. It’s a broad group of people with a singular focus: student success.

Can you briefly describe your daily work?

In summary, I identify interventions designed to achieve the beforementioned outcomes by strengthening and expanding effective activities within the ecosystem or addressing weaknesses and gaps within it. I take the lead on designing these interventions in collaboration with the StrivePartnership team and work hands-on with stakeholders to execute their implementation. With support from my team, I help monitor the progress of these interventions and negotiate changes with stakeholders as needed to ensure student success.

Can you describe a specific project where you are using data to support student interventions?

One example is our Math Lab. This project is one current intervention designed to help address the number of students who are unprepared to take and pass Algebra 1. The overall goal of the project is to help prepare seventh grade students for Algebra 1 in the eighth grade with the aim of them passing with a C or better.

What indicators are you utilizing as part of the intake process?

Teachers identify the students that are in need of support through the delivery of a pre-test that contains basic math concepts: multiplication, fractions, etc. Based on the pre-test, volunteer tutors take students through a specially designed curriculum, which was actually created by one of our tutors. This curriculum is constructed to accomplish two goals. First, it empowers students to walk through specialized lessons at their own pace with added quizzes to assess competency. Secondly, this curriculum prepares tutors to instruct on Math, which can be a very intimidating subject area.

After students have been identified for program participation, how is the opportunity explained to parents and/or guardians?

A letter is sent home to parents letting them know that their child has been selected to receive extra support. They are asked to sign a parent pledge and the student is asked to do the same. Getting family support from the beginning helps increase parents’ understanding of the program and helps generate added support towards the work.

What types of data are being collected as part of the program, how are you offering data support and why is it important?

We look at how many tutoring sessions students are attending, quarter grades, school attendance and tutor feedback. This is the first year that we are able to track how 8th graders who received tutoring support performed in Algebra 1. We are working with the school to create a Math Data Dashboard that helps everyone see the success of this program. Data is important to StrivePartnership because it informs the kinds of questions that need to be posed; the context of questions and approach to potential solutions. Every school district wants to see their students be successful. Having partners that you can trust to help inform possible strategies based on data support is a win for all. We are in the middle of compiling the data and will provide a report on our learnings from this first cohort of students.

How might the analytics resulting from the data change the program in the future?

The data may direct us to implement this in the 5th and 6th grade and may also lead to the formation of a summer math boot camp for incoming 7th grade students. Qualitative data, such as student feedback on what being math-ready means, will also play a role in shaping the program as it relates to the needs and desires of all learners.

What tips would you share to other embarking on similar projects?

First, start small. I still consider this project a pilot. Starting small helps you gather the data needed for continuous improvement, helps form buy-in for additional work and promotes smarter scaling. Secondly, it’s vital you have a true partnership with the district, principals, teachers and community. A true collaborative relationship works together to improve the outcomes of students and relies on each other to help fill gaps.

Drake: Marina, thank you for taking the time to explain the great work you’re doing within our very own learning ecosystem by providing the necessary supports which help to ensure the success of every learner.

Marina: You are very welcome, I enjoyed our conversation!