Using Student Health Data to Close the Achievement Gap

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This case study explores one school’s implementation of the Paramount Health Data Project (PHDP), which uses student health data to drive early academic support interventions. The PHDP aims to close the achievement gap between low-income students and their wealthier peers by studying the correlations between different social determinants of health and academic performance. 

Social determinants of health and academic performance

We initiated a pilot of the Paramount Health Data Project three years ago when we noticed that poverty-stricken students were 13 times less likely than their wealthy peers to graduate on time. The program has given our staff reliable data points to identify students who may need extra academic support before issues show up in the classroom. The Paramount Health Data Project provides a model for how to bring the health and education sectors together by leveraging school health data (e.g., visits to the school nurse) and existing school academic data. Tracking visits to the school nurse provided us with tangible data points that really allow us to intervene early. As we continued tracking the frequency and purpose of the nurse visits, we found that students who visited the school nurse seven or more times in a year showed significantly lower aggregate math and ELA scores than students who visited the school nurse six or fewer times. The majority of students at Paramount Brookside – just about 75% – are in the healthy student range of six or fewer visits to the school nurse. But for the other 25% of our students, we were better able to identify the need to proactively intervene.

We continue to study the correlations between different social determinants of health and academic performance, and the number of visits to the school nurse continues to be a prominent data point. Over time, it has proven to be a predictor of academic risk and in response, we have developed early intervention structures to help students through what might otherwise have had a negative impact on them academically – and which we would not have identified until midyear or final test scores were shared.

On a weekly basis, we pull student data and meet with our school nurse to review it. The data is for all our students – including students with disabilities – who have visited the nurse a certain number of times for ear, mouth, or nose issues. We track the data and review it among various subgroups. Interestingly, right now we aren’t identifying a huge discrepancy between students with disabilities and general education students. We collaborate and workshop the data with teachers to build greater understanding and awareness. 

From our MTSS work, we know that there is nothing more powerful than early intervention. In response to the data, our instructional assistants build student groups and design additional supports. Then we provide intervention to students we identify as presenting risk.

Reflections

What We Learned

Decades of research demonstrate that a child’s life expectancy is extended by nine years if they graduate from high school, and we know that a student’s health directly impacts their academic performance. So, students who visit the school nurse more than once for these social determinants of health are at an increased academic risk, and students who visit more than seven times in a year are at significant risk compared to their peers. The Paramount Health Data Project truly has the ability to change the fabric of education and mitigate risks for students. We have never been able to have this kind of early intervention, and we can do it because we have really solid data correlating achievement scores to medical needs. 

What we are still figuring out

We started the pilot of the Paramount Health Data Project three years ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic. This is really the first full year that we are back and able to meet weekly with our staff to implement the program with fidelity. COVID-19 did complicate the data because COVID-related symptoms amplified the overall amount of nurse visits. . However, given that our whole school community (e.g., teachers, students, families) is erring on the side of caution, we could see more visits and certain types of visits impacting the data. Regardless, we would much rather flag a student potentially at risk than have students go unsupported.

What I would tell other leaders

Assuming schools are already tracking achievement data, all they have to do is develop a system for tracking visits to the school nurse. Even a small team can implement this. We are a school of 800 and we track this with just two staff members. Our tracking then leads to more collaborative discussions with other staff including teachers and other leaders. 

 

 

What’s next

We are continuing with our learning loss plan and reassessing student data throughout the school year. We just got our beginning-of-the-year assessment scores back that allows our instructional coaches to create student small groups who need targeted support, plus we have implemented a free after school tutoring program to increase seat time for at-risk students. We have a little over 60 days before our next round of assessments. We are eager to get back to school, coach our teachers, and support their work with students. Once we see our mid-year strengths and weaknesses, we can reassess and formulate plans for the next part of the year — I’m excited to see where our data falls at the end of this school year.

The Paramount Health Data Project truly has the ability to change the fabric of education and mitigate risks for students. We’ve never been able to have this kind of early intervention, and we can do it because we have really solid data correlating achievement scores to medical diagnoses. 

Learn more about the Paramount Health Data Project!

About The Author

Dexter Taylor is the School Director of Paramount Brookside with experience in teaching and education administration for over a decade.

School Background

Paramount Brookside is devoted to academic achievement, community involvement, and character development. K-8 Students at Paramount are challenged to meet high levels of expectation. With the support of staff and parents, students show growth and success through hard work, grit, and perseverance. The devotion of students and staff to our academics earned Paramount an “A” school designation from the Indiana Department of Education for six consecutive years and recognition as a 2018 Blue Ribbon  School by the U.S. Department of Education.