Leaders at Fanny Jackson Coppin School Leverage Data to Realize Outstanding Academic Achievement Growth

By all assessment measures, the students at Fanny Jackson Coppin Elementary School are improving academically.

Over the last five years’ worth of Pennsylvania System of State Assessment (PSSA) data points, Coppin students’ Math scores increased 37.6% and English Language Arts scores increased 23.7%. Additionally, the school reduced the number of students scoring as Below Basic Proficiency in Math pre-COVID to post-COVID by 16.1%—more than in any other school in the district.

Coppin notched the second highest Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System (PVAAS, a calculation of growth in PSSA scores) score in the district—a 9.2. And in the STAR diagnostic, Coppin has the highest growth year over year in the winter assessments, ranking seventh in the district for achievement and with only 7% of students scoring as Needing Intensive Intervention.

“The overall story is, we’re making gains,” said Coppin Principal Kelly Espinosa, 2020 Neubauer Fellow. “The next question I always get is, ‘How?’

“Adult culture is critical, it can make or break your success,” said Espinosa. “It’s the culture you create to get buy-in, and the culture that you build within your teachers to become data literate.”

In the seven years Espinosa has served as Coppin’s principal, she’s carefully built a strong adult culture upon a foundation of leveraging data and tools to inform instructional coaching in ways that drive student achievement.

“When you look only at achievement, you can get stagnant,” said Espinosa. “The way a school continues to make change is by looking at opportunities for growth.”

Espinosa is extremely intentional about how she analyzes data, looking beyond percentages of students learning at grade level to pinpoint students at the margins of achievement—those close to moving up to the next level and those in danger of slipping down.

By taking a granular look at the data, Espinosa can recognize trends and create subsets of teachers and students to receive strategic supports.

“I identify a focused subset of teachers who get really strategic support, not because they’re not proficient teachers,” said Espinosa, but because they and their students would benefit from specific supports and resources that directly address areas identified for growth.

“This year, I chose a focus teacher subset of grade 2 and 3 teachers, because the 3rd grade scores only grew 13% pre-pandemic to post-pandemic, whereas my other grades grew between 18% and 23%,” said Espinosa, emphasizing that data cannot be and is not all attributed to those specific teachers. “But from a leadership standpoint, it’s up to me to identify where we need to do some focused work.” This year, she’s also focused on Math. “I care about ELA,” she said, “but my focus this year is Math. We have more ground to cover in Math.”

Espinosa and her team are then intentional about the supports put in place. She worked with School-Based Teacher Leader Melanie Peña to ensure grades 2 and 3 teachers would have their professional learning community (PLC) sessions together. This enabled them to set long-term instructional goals and to implement a plan for achieving those goals with consistency year over year.

Espinosa also identifies a subset of students for focus.

“Disproportionality and closing that gap is really important to me,” said Espinosa. “You can look at disproportionality in different ways, you can look at it through the equity lens of race and ethnicity, you can look at it through the equity lens of gender and gender identity, you can look at it through the lens of English Language Learner status, special education status, socioeconomic status. This year, our focus students are Black, African American, and Hispanic students.”

Once Espinosa identifies those focuses, instructional teams triangulate the data—looking at attendance and school experience, in addition to academic performance—to engage in a root cause analysis to determine why those students aren’t making as much academic growth as others.

“A huge piece of data that’s normally ignored is the qualitative part, the kids’ experience,” said Espinosa, noting the research indicating that peer relationships have the largest effect on school experience. “Before the district had their well-being survey, we had our own well-being survey. We talk to our kids a lot. It’s important to me that we’re not making assumptions about what kids need. As adults, we do that far too often.”

Espinosa’s instructional coaching background also contributes to the way she analyzes data and identifies trends. In classrooms, she observed that teachers were focusing on procedural fluency—getting the right answer—even for components that required conceptual understanding. Students were getting the right outcomes, but not really understanding why or how. For example, students too young to write an equation are asked to represent the number story; every student could identify that 7 – 4 = 3, but only three kids could accurately represent it in story form.

To address this, Espinosa brings the entire team into the data analyzation and planning. She worked with her Subject-Based Teacher Leaders (SBTLs) to look ahead in the Math curriculum to find an upcoming lesson requiring a conceptual standard. They speak with the teachers to determine if this work is a critical component of the grade-level work (or if it’s supporting or additional work). They work as a team to prioritize skills that are a major part of the learning and identify ways to accelerate learning vs. remediate.

“If all you do is remediate, you’ll never get through all the content that you’re supposed to teach for that grade,” said Espinosa. “You have to get through your content, and you have to find strategic ways to scaffold,” a teaching technique of firmly establishing fundamental knowledge before gradually building upon that foundational framework.

The teams cross reference students who are on scoring on the margins of an assessment tier and students in the focus demographic, then identify what additional supports and instructional activities they can do to shift those students to the next level of achievement. They also monitor those students, continuing to collect data with in-lesson data collection.

“That’s all part of becoming data literate,” said Espinosa. “Research tells us that if principals don’t have systems in place for teachers to really dig into data, they won’t be as intentional with it, or they’ll look at data that’s a competing priority. While I want my teachers to be looking at all their data, we’re really strategically focused.”

For Espinosa, starting with the data has created buy-in with her faculty and staff, providing a starting point for the Coppin educators to work together to ensure all students are receiving the educational experience that helps them achieve—and as the positive results come in, buy-in from the internal stakeholders of the school grows in turn.

“Adult culture is critical when it comes to this, and I have a really strong adult culture,” said Espinosa. “When you can say to teachers, ‘This thing I asked you to do, that felt really hard and felt like a lot of work and felt really uncomfortable because I was asking you to look at it in a new way—look at where our school is now.’ I’ve created little monsters. When the data is released, they’re all about ‘What are my numbers?’”

Espinosa’s experience in the Neubauer Fellowship helped her to refine the way she builds capacity for data literacy and the way she creates a positive adult culture through coaching and community building.

“I saw the largest school growth in the years that I was in the Neubauer Fellowship,” said Espinosa, who credits the coaching she received throughout the Fellowship with helping her get buy-in on her vision. “I have always been focused on data. But the Neubauer Fellowship absolutely helped me refine that focus. I know what I want, I know what I should do, but I can’t always visualize it out. I had a different way of putting it to paper. Not everybody loves a tracker, I like to organize data in a tracker. In one of my coaching sessions, [then-PASL Program Director] Sharifa Edwards helped me organize [the tracking tool], which has evolved over the years. I would do data walls—Sharifa introduced me to Excel, and formulas, and sheets, and helped me learn to use them. And she helped me think strategically” about what comes next, after leveraging data to identify need.

Because coaching was so influential in her own practice, Espinosa is intentional about ensuring coaching is effective for her own team. “If I’m saying to teachers, ‘We can all get better at this,’ and I have a coach to do that, then teachers should all have coaching, too. If I’m saying that feedback is meant for growth, then I have to show that I truly mean that.” Espinosa has implemented coaching that’s driven by data and focused on collaboration and small, actionable feedback, not scoring. She also finds accountability and creating a cycle of feedback is an important element.

All of that contributes to building community and creating a positive adult culture. “One of the things I was so appreciative of in the Neubauer Fellowship—sometimes it’s the little things that go a long way with people, sending a text message or email letting someone know they’re doing an awesome job, even coffee and donuts,” said Espinosa. “People have to feel seen, and heard, and respected. A huge part is gratitude. We have a culture of mutual respect.

“The Neubauer Fellowship helped me refine my practice, but it also gave me a lot of confidence. Unlike when you’re a teacher and you can strategize with a colleague across the hall, you don’t have that in a building as a principal. You don’t know if you’re sinking, swimming, floating, drowning. The same way my teachers need to hear me say, ‘I see you, thank you, you’re working hard, the proof is in the pudding,’ the Neubauer Fellowship did for me.”

Espinosa has also leveraged the Neubauer Fellowship community to maximize resources. She partnered with Mary Libby, 2022 Neubauer Fellow, when Libby was the principal of Marian Anderson Neighborhood Academy (formerly known as Chester A. Arthur School) to maximize the Neubauer Family Foundation’s Restart Grant. (Libby is now an Assistant Superintendent in Governor Mifflin School District.) The two school communities used the grant to contract out a Carnegie coach, maximizing the part-time contract by utilizing the coach to build the capacity of their SBTLs to carry on the coaching work beyond the coaching contract.

As a Senior Fellow, Espinosa continues to participate in Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders’ programming, participating with two Coppin SBTLs in Breakthrough Results Collaborative (BRC). “BRC is helping not just to build my capacity, but the capacity of my SBTLs as well,” said Espinosa.

Additionally, Espinosa is sharing these notably effective best practices with other Neubauer Fellows for implementation in their school communities, facilitating Neubauer Fellowship Institute sessions on leveraging data in support of student achievement.

“The balance of learning and community building, that’s an important part of PASL programming,” said Espinosa. “My SBTLs have enjoyed going through the BRC program, because they’re getting so see and hear the experience of other people in their roles. You build relationships, you build community, and you can tap into other people’s experiences and maximize resources.”

As for Coppin’s students, they’re continuing their upward trajectory in academic achievement. “Other schools may have higher achievement, but we’re surpassing them for growth,” said Espinosa. “We’re going to catch up.”