Using Data to Create a Culture of Student Accountability

Guest post by David S. Ellena, principal of Tomahawk Creek Middle School in Chesterfield, VA

Tefft Middle School has 835 students in grades seven and eight. They have a highly diverse student body, yet have achieved remarkable results on state standardized testing. Lavonne Smiley and her staff attribute these results to the culture of transparency with data and accountability from all stakeholders. Here are some things that they do to create a culture of success.

Use of Data Journals

Every student has a journal where they record data in their progress through out the course of the year. Students are taught not only how to record the data, but also how to interpret the data. Students then use this data to create goals for their learning for the school year in each subject. With the help of their teachers, each student is then asked to create two actions steps that they are going to take to improve their learning.

Focus on Growth

There was some concern from staff members that students who did not have high scores or results would have a negative feeling about recording their data. Principal Smiley and her staff addressed this by focusing on improvement and growth. By setting goals and achieving those goals, each student was capable of experiencing success regardless of test scores.

Student-Led Conferences

Twice a year, mandatory student led conferences with their parents are held at Tefft. During these conferences, the students are responsible for presenting their work to their parents and family members. Students, with the assistance of teachers, prepare the presentation and even write letters to their family inviting them to the conference. They present their data journals and they work that they have created during the year. One more way that Tefft creates a culture of accountability. Last year, they had 100% parental participation.

You can learn more about how Tefft has created this culture of accountability by visiting their website at

David S. Ellena is the principal of Tomahawk Creek Middle School in Chesterfield, VA. He has served on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals.

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