Computers and the internet have made possible web- or network-based software systems for managing many school processes, as well as for teaching and assessing students. Today, everything from the school lunch program to attendance rosters, telephone operations, and more can be handled by computer systems. And, of course, more and more student assessment can be managed (or at least scored) with computers, generating data results that can be used for additional software manipulation.
Data management systems are developing enormous amounts of information that can be stored and then combined and additionally analyzed (or "mined" or "drilled") for data-driven instructional leadership. The need for this type of information and analysis is further fueled by funding accountability and the demands of state and national standards, including the "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) legislation.
Educational decision makers are using the data and analysis to drive decision-making practices to improve student achievement. The need for data-driven decision making (known as D3M or 3DM) has created an interesting array of web- or network-based programs designed to store, manage, and analyze data—as well as a variety of interesting terms.
A "data warehouse," for example, is a place to store data. "Dirty" data has been corrupted with incorrect input. "Stagnant" data hasn’t been used or updated in a while. Some programs "clean" data. "Longitudinal data systems" enable users to track and evaluate individual student academic performance data during a student’s entire K–12 career.
"Transactional systems" supply data warehouses with data from "student information systems," "instructional management systems," "testing applications," financial software, and more. These types of programs are also referred to as "high-end decision support tools."
"Real-time" data is information that is collected, analyzed, and reported immediately. This type of data makes possible the daily monitoring of student progress and other processes through some very nice intuitive interfaces (often referred to as "dashboards").
The scope and size of data management programs varies enormously, from administrative-focused efforts to collect and measure data from nearly every type of process in a school district to educationally focused efforts designed to measure, analyze, and collect data from various tests to contribute to curriculum management. Nearly all of the programs have something in common. Most of them are web-based, most analyze data in some form, and a number of them work with real-time data.
This roundup takes a look at several products with different approaches to data-driven decision making. This is only a sample of the offerings in this marketplace. Keep in mind that pricing is based on size, use, and program features; contact the companies directly for cost specifics.
STARS (Standardized Test and Analysis Research System) is a web-based customizable software system that provides analysis and reporting on student performance on state and local assessments. Administrators and teachers can use the data for decision making related to classroom instruction.
Data can be disaggregated by gender, migrant status, students not tested, and other factors to provide information as required by the No Child Left Behind Act, as well as to improve student achievement and for other purposes. Test formats such as the Stanford Achievement Test 9 (SAT 9), CAT 6, CST, SABE, CELDT, CAHSEE, TAAS, TAKS, CAPA, FCAT, ITBS, TAP, local state-level tests, and others are incorporated into STARS.
A teacher dashboard provides an overview of class and course performance with item analysis and answer frequency data for state and local assessments. Data can be filtered for subgroups and program monitoring and can be used to define subgroups for intervention. STARS enables data filtering for both state-mandated and locally defined subgroups for program monitoring. Teachers can view prior-year student performance as feedback on teaching practices. The program provides predefined charts and a custom charting tool, among other features.
SAS OnDemand for K–12
SAS Institute, Inc.
SAS OnDemand for K–12 is a hosted web-based administrative solution designed to provide K–12 administrators with the information needed to make data-driven decisions about their school districts.
The program measures and identifies trends using specific performance indicators providing benchmarks and guidance for interventions and future improvement. These markers include student and teacher attendance by month, district, and school level—with running counts. SAS OnDemand also tracks student discipline (with details), demographic data (across district and school levels), district financial tracking (including the current year), and more.
District leaders can access information on select operational measures and student and administrative data for their schools. The program can be used to help answer questions about attendance goals, changing enrollment, and how students are meeting district goals. The gathered data can guide problem-solving efforts such as considering the relationship, if any, among student absences, discipline infractions, and teacher attendance.
eScholar Complete Data Warehouse
The eScholar Complete Data Warehouse is web-based software for K–12 data management, analysis, and reporting. The program gathers, cleanses, validates, and integrates data from a wide variety of operational systems and data sources in K–12 education. The software forms a longitudinal history from the data that can provide insights into student achievement and educational effectiveness.
Schools and states of all sizes can implement the program to meet specific needs while maintaining SIF (Schools Interoperability Framework) and NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) standards and meeting NCLB requirements. The eScholar Complete Data Warehouse integrates data across 37 domains or categories comprising more than 2,500 detail-level data elements supporting 175 assessments, all of which can be loaded from electronic sources.
The recently released Version 10 includes improvements to nearly every component with the addition of more than 200 new fields. Additional enhancements include faster error correction, improved data cleansing, expanded data elements, new domains, and more.
Student Information System
Student Information System is a hosted web-based program that provides access to real-time information. It includes maintenance, security, and data recovery services. School officials can use the program to communicate with the school community to update students and families about student progress information and to give teachers and other staff the real-time data needed to make decisions and guide students.
SchoolOne 2009 offers a number of customizable options, including tools that can be used to take attendance and generate a variety of attendance reports for use by teachers, staff, and administrators. A grade book—integrated with student management, roster, and report card features—accommodates grading scales with curving for students, classes, and schools. Report cards can be customized with comments (available by student and assignment) and printed at any time.
Student Information System can be used to track discipline or positive behaviors for students and staff or directly generate letters or other behavior reports to parents or guardians. Official transcripts can be generated as needed, and unofficial transcripts can be displayed to parents, students, and staff. Data can be imported or exported into a variety of other administrative tools. Many staff and student management functions are offered, including class and other types of scheduling.
EDmin’s INFORM system is a standards-based learning management system that uses the web to track the performance of every student in a school, district, or state. The program can generate reports on day-to-day student classroom performance, as well as on external tests and assessments for identified groups of students. Teachers can see performance profiles of new classes as they plan for a new year. Throughout the year, they can constantly monitor each student’s progress. Students and their parents can regularly check attainment and achievement.
Among INFORM’s many components are an easily searchable state and district standards Performance Center, as well as tools for creating lesson plans, assignments, grade recording, attendance, and discipline events. The program includes online portfolios, a section for exceptional students, and a communications section that includes email and a web discussion forum.
INFORM provides a newsletter tool and a calendar that can be used to organize events and assignments. A meeting manager function enables online agendas, minutes, and more. The program offers many other tools and functions as well.
Instructional Management Suite for School Districts
SchoolNet’s Instructional Management Suite (IMS) is a web-based component of the SchoolNet School Performance Management System. The IMS enables assessment, reporting, curriculum deployment and management, professional development management, advanced analytics, parent portals, web-based grade books, and dashboards.
The personalized dashboards help implement intervention strategies by providing access to ongoing measurements of student progress. The dashboards also aid in monitoring implemented intervention programs at district, school, classroom, and individual levels.
Benchmark and classroom assessments can be used to monitor student mastery of skills and standards. The results are available for individual curriculum questions or students and for entire assessments, groups, and all students. Teachers can analyze student progress and tailor instruction, and they can create and align lesson plans, calendars, and online materials banks with content provided from districts or third-party providers.
TetraData Warehouse and Central Data Store
TetraData Solutions, a Follett Software Co.
The TetraData Warehouse and Central Data Store (CDS) features data warehousing and analysis as a part of a powerful suite of programs that includes TetraData DASH, TetraData Analyzer, and Data On Demand.
TetraData Warehouse integrates and stores edu-cation data from multiple sources in a variety of cross-referenced methods. Users can query the data warehouse to compare different types of data, such as assessment scores according to demographics. TetraData Warehouse enables the evaluation of the same kinds of data for various reasons. For example, users can check to see how a subgroup has performed in a subject area over a year’s time.
Central Data Store offers a place to receive data in a consistent format from a variety of educational sources. The program stores current and historic versions of the data and provides the information to transactional, analytic, and reporting systems.
Purchasing and Using Data Management and Analysis Systems
The last 10 years have seen educational institutions use computers and software systems for more and more school processes. With the increasing power of computers and the internet, additional types of new and useful data will continue to be provided for use in making day-to-day and year-to-year decisions of all types.
Looking back, some lessons can be learned from the early purchases of the first data management programs. In those days, schools and school districts often bought different programs from different companies. I can remember one program that required four training workshops per year for nearly 3 years, as well as other programs that seemed more difficult than manual recordkeeping.
Educational institutions considering the adoption of new data-driven decision-making systems need to examine the programs’ ease of use and the amount of training required. All of these programs will involve some training—these are complicated packages—but some of the software will turn out to be much more intuitive than the competition.
Overall, larger programs with components for more data needs are probably better than a group of individual programs from different companies. Sharing data works better; similar program interfaces will result in a much shorter learning curve.
Charles Doe has been teaching for 38 years, including 20 years as a Title I reading specialist and 8 years as a media specialist. In addition to presenting and writing articles, he has been involved with computers in education for more than 20 years. He is also a longtime product reviewer for MultiMedia & Internet@Schools magazine. Communications to the author may be addressed to Charles Doe, Media Specialist, Hastings Area Schools, 232 W. Grand, Hastings, MI 49058 or firstname.lastname@example.org.