The journey to understand data and its place in Education has been one full of trials and tribulations. Starting in 1974 with the creation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the topic of data and student records has centered around fear and apprehension from the beginning. That’s not to say we haven’t seen incentives for the use and study of student data as with the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) in 2005, but even that boost in interest came with its own set of protection and privacy challenges. By 2014, we – as an entire industry – were almost afraid to use the words “student data” in any kind of positive light.
But let’s look at the root of the topic without the connotations that may come with it. Data alone can help us make better decisions. Data alone can improve efficiency across resource-strapped districts. According to a study by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, using student achievement data to support instructional decision making is key. The study states that data must be part of the ongoing cycle, it must establish a clear vision for schoolwide data use, and it must provide supports that foster a data-driven culture. Technology behind data can give us the ability to truly improve our Education industry from the ground up with Educators at the helm! We’re at a place in our society today where data is increasing at exponential rates and will only continue to do so. It’s time for the Education industry to take hold of their data, use it to truly help students, and change the conversation when it comes to student data. It’s a brave new frontier when it comes to what the next generation will expect to be recorded and available at a moment’s notice. Are we prepared to keep up?
When was the last time we were all on the same page regarding the use of student data in K-12 Education? Do we even have a clear consensus on what that term, “student data” means? There are many types of data being collected on a daily basis that can potentially help students have a more successful educational experience. More than just assessments and class grades, understanding the complete view of an individual student through the eyes of the data can provide additional insights to educators that might not have been fully realized through personal interaction alone. That’s not to say data is the end all, be all for improving our system, but as lifelong learners it’s important we understand the new and improving tools we have at our disposal if they can be used, in addition to what we already know, to help students thrive.
It seems as though many of us have realized this already, but without sufficient tools in place Educators – resourceful as they are – often have to create a new path and reinvent the wheel at individual district, school, and classroom levels to achieve the goals they may actually share across a larger base. We see this so often when a district will have taken on a project to build their own data engine, or a teacher will adopt free/low cost technologies just for her/his classroom because they see a need. Or how many principals do we all know that spend the weeks before school starts preparing massive data files for each of their teachers so they can start the year without losing valuable institutional knowledge from previous years of instruction?
The State of the Data Union is in a bit of disarray without common practices and methods in place to achieve shared goals. We all know we want to use whatever knowledge we have, including data gained, to help students in any way we can. So how do we put what we want and what we have into alignment most effectively?
Coming out of a takeover from the state department in 2014 for financial administrative issues, the Scott County School District—nestled 45 minutes outside of Jackson, Mississippi—was, in many ways, hungry for improvement but did not possess the right tools.
“A lot of things had been ignored, and we saw a need to really know our data,” says Stephanie Cotnam, Scott County’s instructional trainer. “We knew we couldn’t grow and get better without it.”
Learn how SchoolStatus turned Scott County School District’s data to action by improving attendance rates, reading levels and discipline, taking their D rating to a B rating in just a year.
According to a May 2018 article in Forbes, 90% of the world’s existing data was created in the last 2 years. WOW. That’s an incredible rate of exponential growth and it’s only going to increase. How are we expected to keep up at such a breakneck pace?
What’s interesting about that rate of growth, though, is that Educators have always naturally carried so much data in their minds on the children they interact with. Much of the data growth in Education is, in fact, knowledge you probably already had – just captured in digital vs. human form. Understanding the data we interact with as primarily a reflection of what makes a good Educator can help us move to the next phase of data analytics in Education. A phase where we don’t see data as a thing to be wrangled or a privacy breach waiting to happen. A phase where we truly believe the data in front of us is a an organizational tool, a living breathing resource to help us marry the information reflected in our own knowing with the empirical data collected. When we relate to data as a reflection and a helpful tool rather than a silo or project, we can start to benefit from having it assist us as we continue to the best we can for our kids and their families.
To reach that level of understanding and interaction with our data, its important that data be accessible, timely, and complete. If teachers can’t access near real-time data for each child in his/her class, they can’t really USE it to help in their day to day interactions. If administrators can’t compare multiple types of data side by side, they can’t form new initiatives or make plans to reach segments of the population that may be falling behind. And without visibility into the communication happening between a student’s caregivers at school and at home, we’re only getting a piece of the puzzle to begin with.