Educators nationwide are aware of the multitude of options when it comes to school data management systems. As the founder of an Edtech software company that builds student data management systems and online gradebooks, I’ve learned over the years that development of these systems must be predictive of, and adaptable to, a school or district’s needs.

The data can’t “just sit there.” Six years ago anyone inventing a better school data management system focused — correctly — on best ways to capture the data. As with any evolving technology what was advanced then is simply not enough now. Capturing data is not enough. Our advances in development, software, and experience with what works and what doesn’t within a school system has taught us a process for what we need for student and school-wide success: Consolidate, Analyze and Plan.

Part 1: Consolidate

Years ago, developers knew that a teacher marking absences on paper attendance sheets and tracking data by hand was not using their time efficiently. To come up with an electronic way to capture data was undoubtedly a necessary step in the evolution of the modern classroom. However now we have a glaring gap between capturing and consolidating data. To have capturing capability without the right tools to consolidate the technologies, and organize the data, means a teacher might as well be using paper sheets again. What came from good intentions to collect as much data as possible, keep that data secure, warehouse that data for future use, resulted in mountains of data that no one realistically knows what to do with. With so much data spread out in so many different places, the key in the modern classroom is to move past capture to consolidate.

Consider how many data points teachers face and all the different ways the data comes to them. It could be an excel spreadsheet, a warehouse, reports, emails — the list goes on and on. Having from six to 60 systems means too much data. It becomes counter-productive. As the expression goes, it can make it difficult to “see the forest through the trees.” Holistically, schools are gathering data from outside the typical range of student data: finance data, human resource systems, and food Service data to name a few. With the right tools to sort and organize this extensive amount of data, school districts can use the data to its best advantage. There is so much data the tool has to be useable and work within the flow of a teacher’s busy workday. This leads us to the next step: Analyze.

Part II: Analyze

Giving school district administrators access to data is important — but putting data evaluation into the hands of the teachers is a game-changer. If you think about the data like points of energy — capturing the data is potential energy. Analyzing the data is kinetic energy. Eventually using the data to plan is electric energy. It’s important to get the data moving in order to best evaluate the data. But the problem is these aren’t data scientists; they are busy teachers — some with hundreds of students. (Need to check original story for what goes here) the worst thing you can do as this turns them against the data. They begin to see the data negatively, as a burden, rather than a possibility. Below are what I believe are the best practices to integrate data into a teacher’s workday to allow them ease-of-use when it comes to evaluating and analyzing data.

  1. Give teachers a system so all their data and tools can be viewed in one place. We must understand it’s counterintuitive for a teacher to log in and out of many systems to try and gather data. This must be available to them in one place, with one login, for them to analyze the data efficiently.
  2. Wade through the noise and only use what is necessary when analyzing data. Recognize different needs and data pinpoints. Allow educators to run analytics easily. For example, tie metrics according to their standards so they can then visualize the data in a clear and comprehensive way.
  3. Take the teacher out of the bubble. Open outlets for the teacher to communicate directly using real time data with the touch of a button, or the swipe of a finger on their mobile device. Give teachers the tools to communicate results with parents and children and comment within the school community to administrators or fellow teachers. Let the data open a dialogue not stall it. On the flip side: Give communication to students and parents. Often the most overlooked stakeholder, a parent or guardian is by far the most influential person for a student’s education aside from the teacher.
  4. Make it easy. Allow all data to be accessed in one place, give teachers a user-friendly interface and systems that work within their daily workflow. Ease-of-use for the teacher is more important to a product than one would think, mainly because if the system doesn’t make sense to the teacher, they won’t use it. Ease-of-use is becoming another way to say a product is active. Clunky software will not cut it. A teacher simply won’t allow it.

Analyzing a report is one thing. But if a report only provides teachers with static views and is not customized to what that student or teacher needs, then the report is useless. We know that data needs to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. What’s good and what’s bad? We get that. But what’s next? This is what brings me to the next point. Plan.

Part III: Plan

Most schools know to plan a road map for the child. From the guidance counselor to the parents to the student portfolio — and all the software out there to make this easier for everyone — it’s clear this has become part of the dialogue of the school community. So what’s the problem? Everyone has a plan of some sort, but the majority isn’t planning based on data. If you’ve already followed the first two steps: consolidate and analyze — then why not use that data to plan?

From personalized professional development plans for teachers to student learning plans, it’s important for users to have a roadmap and a strategy for next steps. Current data is important, as we know. Analysis of data is imperative. But going beyond organization of your data can mean higher success levels for the school community. Data should be used to build plans for all users — including their long-term goals and their daily goals. Being organized is cool. But being able to understand where your students will be in one, two, three years is key. A teacher or administrator must be confident when thinking: Now I know where the pinpoints are. What type of planning tool are you going to use so that the data becomes actionable? It’s not right to make the plan first and then let the data “fit” into the plan.

Rather than just displaying data we need action. Action equals planning. A teacher can use data to understand where a student needs help. Without properly managing his or her data, how will a teacher build individual learning plans for each student in the class? Qualitative data can help move a teacher’s attention beyond test scores. A report with data sorted in the right way can allow a teacher to teach specifically to one child as long as they have the right tools to consolidate, analyze and plan. There are schools out there right now without a planning tool even in place while mounds of data pieces pile up — unused. Alternatively, there are schools with the tools in place but do not use the data to take the results to the next level.

Consolidate, Analyze and Plan

What seems obvious today wasn’t known six years ago. We are constantly getting better and learning more and more how to improve the day-to-day workflow of a teacher. Data should be analyzed in schools and those reports must work their way into a long-term plan. The data should be used in the most beneficial and actionable way for the success of the child and the entire school community.

After teaching high school for over 10 years in NYC public schools and working in technical integration initiatives for the NYC DOE, College of Technology, and City University of New York, Peter Bencivenga co-founded the education software company DataCation. Peter holds his M.S. in Instructional Technology from the New York Institute of Technology.

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