Teachers from previous decades may have focused on “What did I teach?,” but the new focus is “What did the students learn?”
The chorus singing the praises of data in education has been ever-present for years now, but it’s not always clear how educators can effectively put that data to use. Should we be using data to solve problems at the individual student level, the school level, or district level?
In today’s digital classroom, teachers have access to more data than ever. With a few clicks, we can view detailed reports on student test scores, formative assessments, progress reports from self-paced software, attendance, and so much more. At times, the amount of data can feel overwhelming, especially when each data point only exists as an isolated channel, unrelated to the next.
In the Wilson County School District, using educational data to inform our decisions has reinvented the way students learn, and it has given educators a newfound confidence in their teaching practices.
At Muskogee Public Schools, we recently had to redraw our school attendance boundaries. Using geographic information system (GIS) software gave us a wealth of data to inform our decisions; but after the dust settled, we began to put our geographic information to work in a number of other useful ways. Here are the four we’re most excited about.
1. Reviewing equity by tying student performance data to GIS data
Since each student has a unique student ID, we’re able to tie their performance data with geography-based data from our GIS software, ONPASS® Pro. We have our district and school boundaries and geocoded student data all in one place on a map. If a school is underperforming, we can go back and look at student factors we may not have considered before, such as whether the struggling students are transfers (and if so, where they’re coming from) or if they live in a part of the district where they’re spending an inordinate amount of time on the bus each day.
Related content: How we used GIS data and projects to connect with our community
This gives us another layer to look at when examining the makeup of the student body in a building. It’s added a whole new realm of data for us to uncover trends and then pinpoint specific issues and come up with a plan to address them.
In our recent redistricting process, we saw the effects of letting something like this go unaddressed when we realized that one of our schools was not a neighborhood school at all—more than half the kids in attendance were transfers. The school wasn’t performing well and everyone just assumed that the neighborhood the kids lived in had something to do with it.
Finding out that a large proportion of the kids were transfers allowed us to get them back into the schools they were closest to and then allocate resources across the district more equitably and effectively. Those kids, and all the others in the district, are getting a fair shake now, and we’re confident that will continue into the future now that we have some ongoing visibility into this particular issue.
2. Boosting your bond’s appeal
In a few months, Muskogee schools will put a bond issue before the voters in our community. We’re working with the county assessor to get home values and addresses in a GIS format to input to our GIS school locator, a public-facing portal. This will allow parents to tell not only where their child will attend school, but also to get a close estimate of what their property taxes would be upon successful passage of the bond.
Of course, any time you’re asking people for money, the more transparent you can be, the better off you are. The kinds of data we’re able to put out for public consumption will help voters make an informed decision.
3. Improving transportation communication
Our GIS software is not designed as a school transportation or routing solution, but we are still finding it useful in that area. Having geocoded data to share means greater interoperability between the technology tools in different departments. For example, in our transportation software we’re able to add in hard stops, such as a railroad crossing where a train passes every day at 3 p.m. We can then figure out which students will be affected so we can communicate accurate transportation times with their families.
Tactical student data privacy questions like “What can I do right now?” should be asked by all CIOs, teachers, administrators, and policymakers in this changing landscape of data access, student privacy, and interoperability.
Schools give many tests throughout the year to identify students’ skills and gaps in their learning, including universal screening, diagnostic, formative, interim, and summative assessments. These tests generate a huge amount of data meant to guide instruction—but all of this information can be overwhelming if teachers don’t have an easy way to process it.
There is such a thing as having too much data. If teachers have to sort through an abundance of data to figure out what their students need, and if they don’t know which data points they should focus on to achieve the greatest impact on learning, then they won’t use data to inform their instruction—and the money invested in data analysis and reporting tools will have been largely wasted.
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