Tulsa Public Schools

Using data tracking to improve literacy instruction across an urban school district

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Add instructional behaviors tracking to the existing tool and build adoption

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Achieving good adoption and data tracking from the new functionality and created a more highly skilled team to maintain and enhance the tool

Tulsa Public Schools - Activity Feed


Capitalizing upon the benefits of increased literacy

Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) serves more than 35,000 diverse students, with a majority coming from disadvantaged economic backgrounds. The district is very invested in improving students’ reading levels since data shows that maintaining grade level reading proficiency year by year leads to higher graduation, college enrollment, and workforce success rates. 

Quote from Sean Berkstresser, Executive Director, Information & Analytics at TPS

“We wanted to work with thoughtbot to ensure that our administrators, supervisors, and teachers got a really great app—we know that thoughtbot teams design with an intense focus on the user experience and user interface.”  

Sean Berkstresser
Executive Director, Information & Analytics at Tulsa Public Schools


Improving literacy across all district classrooms

TPS wanted to improve literacy instruction across all content areas and all classrooms. To be successful, they would need the district’s Information & Analytics team to help them track the established literacy “Look Fors”—teaching practices that administrators can see and measure. Not only would this data confirm that teaching methods were making a difference for the kids, it would also be used to guide professional development for educators and further improve curriculum. 

Executive Director of TPS’ Information & Analytics team, Sean Berkstresser, and Lead Developer, Travis Miller, knew this was a tall order for a number of reasons:

  • The runway was short to update tracking capabilities in the existing dashboard tool before the next school year started in the fall.
  • A large number of stakeholders in different roles would need to quickly learn and adopt the tracking tool.
  • The team had to manage any perceptions that the new functionality would negatively impact usefulness for teachers.

With the goals and challenges clear, TPS’s Information & Analytics team knew they had to deliver. Failing to provide data-based proof of the success of the new literacy strategy could risk future philanthropic funding and continuous improvement for the district. The team also wanted to reinforce their reputation as a vital resource for meeting district objectives and improving student achievement. 

Teacher view of the TPS dashboard


Updating the existing application to track instructional performance

TPS knew from previous engagements that they could count on thoughtbot for design-led development and proven methods to align stakeholders toward a common goal. Applying Ruby on Rails and React development skills, thoughtbot helped the TPS data team iterate on their existing Rails dashboard to give schools and leaders access to crucial classroom- and school-level instructional performance data. When the teams ran into dilemmas stemming from unclear feedback from stakeholders, they pivoted to conduct a Design Audit which pointed out inconsistencies and laid a foundation for the future development. Along the way, the team shared best practices, including pair-programming and code review, to help the TPS team grow skills so they could maintain and improve the platform going forward. 

Travis Miller, Lead Developer at Tulsa Public Schools

“thoughtbot is really a capacity builder because they’ve helped our development team grow and become more effective and efficient themselves. Having our developers work with more experienced developers who have seen a wider range of situations that need to be accounted for—edge cases—is really a helpful resource to have.”

Travis Miller
Lead Developer at Tulsa Public Schools


Growing data and a skilled team to maintain and enhance the tool

With a short timeline to succeed, thoughtbot helped TPS design the new functionality in the spring so they could gather user feedback before faculty went on summer break. They spent the summer building the tracking functionality and were able to demonstrate it at the district wide Principals meeting in August. Final tweaks were made and the dashboard was in place for all educators and administrators to use on the first day of school. 

During the first quarter of the school year, TPS has already logged more than 4,000 unique observations about the kids’ classroom literacy experiences. Data from these observations is informing continuous improvement conversations at the school and district levels. 

Both teachers and administrators appreciate that principals can give immediate feedback by posting their classroom observations.

Looking ahead

TPS is ready to apply their instructional approach to new subject areas

District teachers and leaders are excited to see students’ winter reading assessment scores and compare it with data collected by the tool. As the data continues to show the effectiveness of chosen teaching strategies, the district is eager to use the tool to track bite-sized observations of instruction in other subjects like math or science, and to document culture and climate values in the classroom. 

Quote from Sean Berkstresser

“thoughtbot is great at staying grounded in the purpose. They got that our team really wants to help kids and they put themselves in that same mindset.” 

Sean Berkstresser
Executive Director, Information & Analytics at Tulsa Public Schools