8 Features Tech Directors Want in Student Data Storage & Analytics

No one is more invested in student data management than district technology administrators. Am I right, tech directors, tech coordinators? After all, you are the folks who maintain this data and often spend countless hours gathering and disseminating valuable data points to teachers, principals, curriculum directors, counselors, and superintendents.
The good-news, bad-news is that the trend toward data-driven learning models has helped fuel a growing market for data mining and learning analytics solutions. It’s good because you have more technology options, and it’s bad because too many choices can complicate the procurement process. To help with decision making, here is a list of 8 elements that are critical to a quality student data management and analytics system.

1.       One Place to Store Data

It’s extremely difficult to harness the power of student data when it’s fragmented and out of reach to the people who need it. Replacing data silos and spreadsheet reporting, an effective K-12 student data analytics solution should integrate and aggregate all data sources into one system for utilization and reporting. In other words, it should integrate seamlessly with your student information, gradebook, LMS, special education, and other student solutions as well as serve as “data central” for all assessments—state, 3rd-party, and local. 

A lot of vendors promise full integration between a school’s technology solutions through open interoperability frameworks, their own APIs, or custom processes. Reaching the dream of real-time data sharing can be elusive, however. Only a unified suite platform can eliminate potential incompatibility issues like manual data entry, duplication of data, and nightly data migrations. With one unified platform, you can ensure that everyone has access to the most current, accurate, and relevant data.

 2.       Ease of Use for You and Teachers

Giving teachers the ability to use data to enhance teaching is probably one of the biggest game-changers in modern education. But student data is effective only if users know how to interpret it. A system that’s simple to access, use, and navigate is the first and most important step to user adoption and success.

How do you define usability? If you’re in IT, it probably includes things like simple installation processes, easy update procedures, and painless troubleshooting. For busy educators, ease of use can be answered through questions like these: Do I have to log in separately and remember another username and password? Does it have a familiar look and feel? Will it help me save time/become more efficient? Can it be easily integrated into my daily activities? Are there multiple ways to access information? Can I get anytime/anywhere access?

3.       Multiuser Access with Role-Based Security

Here’s one feature that can help replace hundreds of user-specific reports and save countless hours or weeks spent gathering and distributing data. Data systems using role-based security and permission restrictions not only help districts maintain the confidentiality and integrity of student data, but they also give staff members easy access to the information they need to perform their jobs. In typical scenarios, teachers are able to view assessment data of all students enrolled in their classrooms, intervention specialists can see student data based on their caseload, principals have access to all students in their building, and so on. This process can also be applied to parents/guardians and students when accessing student-specific assessment and performance data.

4.       Training for Teachers

It’s no surprise to district IT personnel that integrating technology in the classroom is more complicated than just giving teachers access to software. Because teachers possess varying levels of tech skills, have different and preferred learning styles, and generally lack the time to learn how to use various programs, it’s wise to consider solutions (and technology support providers) that offer a range of training and support options. A multifaceted approach could include face-to-face training, online web-based training, self-directed in-product help, online community forums, and even professional development certification programs.

5.       Access to Historical, Timely, Relevant Data

If raising student achievement and improving instruction are among your district’s goals for student data analysis, then you’ll want to pay close attention to the types of data that are available from prospective systems. Number one, does it allow teachers to see historical, longitudinal data that can help to create a rich picture of student progress over time? Imagine a teacher pulling up their students’ past test scores, including the most recent end-of-year exams, before the start of the school year. This is the kind of information that allows teachers to develop a sense of their students’ strengths and challenges, and integrate this data into their planning process. 
Number two, does it provide timely information—from state tests, local assessments, and other data points—that can help teachers inform and modify their instruction on the fly? Data that comes to educators late, after they’ve spent weeks or months working with students and getting to know their achievement levels, is essentially worthless.

Number three, are teachers getting data that’s relevant and easy to understand? Having access to students’ overall assessment scores is important, but when teachers can see data points that tie to learning standards, that’s when the magic happens. And don’t forget about other types of data—like demographics, attendance, discipline, interventions, IEPs, and special needs—that are useful in understanding the student as a whole.  

6.       Robust, Interactive Reporting

How do you bring your data to life and give it meaning? Whether a superintendent is comparing the latest building-by-building OGT test results, or a teacher is viewing student performance across multiple assessments and multiple years, everyone wants the ability to move in and out of data and find the key information they need. In addition to user dashboards and standard and custom reports, a good data management solution includes drill-down, filter, and sort capabilities that enable users to make sense of their data and see what’s happening at the micro level.

Imagine a scenario where a teacher can look at a visual graph of her students’ OCBA English scores, filter by students falling below “proficient” ranking, drill down to see how these students performed on individual standards, and then sort them into small groups for personalized instruction or intervention referral. Of course, for even greater flexibility and data sharing, systems should allow users to export their data to spreadsheets, such as Excel or Google Sheets.

7.       Easy Importing of Assessment Data

A robust assessment data management solution should be fully capable of aggregating data from diverse sources. That’s a given. But as with any quality technology product, the devil is in the details.

Be sure to ask questions about methods used to import data, including both archived and ongoing assessments. For example, how easy is it to import multiple years’ worth of historical assessment data?  And which party—the district or the technology provider—will handle and schedule that task? What’s the process for importing data from various testing providers? Specifically, is there a centralized page, file formatting templates, or other tools to help automate data imports directly from the provider’s website? 

Finally, given the ever-changing nature of education legislation and testing requirements, districts will want to know how the vendor manages the wide range of K-12 assessment providers. For example, how quick are they to make new assessments available for importing, and how well do they respond to test provider changes or updates that could impact data access? 

8.       Integrate with District Learning Programs

A data mining and analytics tool is usually not enough, on its own, to impact student learning unless its embedded into school-wide education practices, processes, and procedures. Giving educators easy access to student performance data right from their student information, gradebook, or learning management system is a good start. Even better is a system that allows districts to support their own curriculum and learning programs—including interventions and student learning objectives—in an environment that provides a framework for collaboration and continuous data analysis. 

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