As educators, we understand data’s vital role in providing insights that can lead to better student outcomes. But too often, academic, behavioral, and cultural data stays in the system it’s housed in and never gets a chance to drive a holistic approach to educating students. With no easy way to access so-called data “silos,” educators may miss the opportunity to leverage multiple measures to understand the root cause of problems and effect positive change.
We owe it to our students, communities, and vested stakeholders to continuously ensure we do as much with the data we gather. Schools and districts across the nation should continue to transform data sets into actionable information for various stakeholders, including members of the community and students. Only when data becomes accessible will all students be able to reach their maximum potential.
Case Study: Using Big Data to Fight Chronic Absenteeism
In California, at the sunset of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, a number of large urban districts, including Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Francisco, decided to look at multiple data sets in a different way. These districts began analyzing data around factors such as social-emotional learning (SEL), chronic absenteeism, disproportionality, and disparity, while still focusing on academic growth and summative state assessments.
Officials in these districts used a more comprehensive data view to support all students, especially those in traditionally underserved groups such as English Learners, males of color, and students with special needs. Some of the data revealed a performance gap among chronically absent students or, by California’s definition, those who miss more than 10 percent of scheduled school days.
The U.S. Department of Education calls chronic absenteeism a hidden crisis. Black male students who become chronically absent, for example, have a 78 percent dropout rate. However, when students, teachers, administrators, and parents all have access to relevant and timely data, they can proactively respond to attendance issues and other problems before they become critical.
How to Use Data to Help Individual Students
Let’s look at a student we’ll call Jose. Jose is an English Learner in high school. His home life involves pressures hidden to many educators, and he’s trying to adjust to a new language, a new school system, and a new culture.
How can we help Jose leave school prepared for college or career, especially since the world we live in is rapidly changing? And how do we make sure he doesn’t fall through the cracks given the high student-teacher ratio in many of our schools?
It’s important for every district to have a graduate profile that every stakeholder in the school system can rally around. With such a north star in place, every interested party—students, parents, teachers, administrators, and so on—can do their part in the achievement of measurable goals.
Data points aligned with the graduate profile, reviewed in real time and on a regular basis, can help every education stakeholder keep Jose on the right path. Students like Jose, for instance, want to see their test scores and grades, attendance, and behavior metrics; they also want to know that the school provides a safe, positive learning environment. Having this information available (in the context of their personal learning objectives) will likely help more students take ownership of their own education. This is critically important, since research shows that student-learning ownership is the indicator most highly correlated to student success.
As students monitor their individual path towards success, parents and guardians can also benefit from real-time data about their children’s behavior, attendance, test scores, and grades, as well as the school’s climate and culture. Despite our best intentions, it seems that parents might be kept in the dark. But armed with data, Jose’s educational support network, including parents or guardians can empower themselves to advocate more strongly for Jose than they may otherwise have done without the actionable information.
What do educators need to know about Jose to ensure his success and help him develop a growth mindset? It would be great for teachers to access specific information about Jose’s performance and depth of knowledge, especially as they relate to state standards, literacy and numeracy, and other content areas. As mentioned earlier, it’s also critical to have longitudinal and holistic data about Jose’s education, including perception data about SEL, personal goals, and interests. If comprehensive data—academic, behavioral, and cultural—is made readily available, educators will be more likely to make successful interventions, accelerate growth, and provide enrichment opportunities for students.
With unsiloed data—presented as an aggregated dashboard of key performance indicators (KPI)—Jose’s principal and other site leaders can monitor instructional and student programs for better efficacy. Given the recent tragedies across the country, classroom, school, and district leaders should also be able to see whether individual students are meeting their social-emotional competency goals.
All district and school leaders want their students to graduate college-and-career ready, but the ways of going about it and the challenges faced are unique to every situation. That’s why it’s so important to centralize your data and make it more accessible to all relevant consumers of that information. You’ll definitely want to look for a single data platform that integrates your student information, assessment, and learning management systems; provides access to valuable external data; and allows you to select and distribute any of your data points via dashboards and on-demand reports.
With relevant data at the ready, you can streamline meetings and spend more time using the data you have to help specific students. An abundance of targeted information will inform your decision-making and facilitate collaboration, and no longer will a lack of information cause any more students to fall through the cracks.
If you’re interested in closing the achievement gap, you must make a commitment to break down data silos and give every stakeholder access to actionable information. Education is the great social equalizer, so let’s make sure we help all students find their spark.
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