Magnum B.I.: Using Powerful Business Intelligence Tools, Two Districts Are Drilling Down to the Finer Points of Student Data, Where the Most Revealing Insights Lie

Article excerpt

"When marketing and sales really work together, you get a very powerful system," Dave Chiszar explains, drawing a parallel between business and education. "in education, when curriculum and assessment work together, you leverage some really good things."

At the Naperville Community Unit School District 203, outside Chicago, where Chiszar is the director of assessment and quality analysis, really good things are the norm. One of the five largest districts in Illinois, Naperville has 19,000 students, and more than 90 percent of them meet or exceed state educational standards, according to Chiszar.

How have they done it? Through what Nicole Engelbert, a senior analyst in the technology business unit at Datamonitor, a market research and analysis firm, calls perhaps the strongest implementation of business intelligence (BI) tools she knows of in K-12. Naperville employs a sophisticated data warehouse, mining, and statistical analysis software from SPSS to track how its students are performing on ongoing assessments. Through incremental benchmarking and yearly testing, Naperville's principals and administrative team can see how students are progressing toward standards, or whether a particular student's performance is falling off.

Engelbert says the district uses SPSS not simply to check on student performance in the previous month, but to ask sophisticated, forward-looking questions such as: Given what we know about how we did last month, are we or aren't we on track in terms of adequate yearly progress? How much improvement do we need to make this week in order to stay on track?

That's the appeal of business intelligence tools, which offer schools the ability to look beyond a routine statistic, such as what percentage of students have passed a given test. Through data analysis, schools can view specific scores for a select group of students, for example, and compare that data to other groups, classes, or teachers. That, Engelbert says, is the kind of information the No Child Left Behind Act is after, and the kind that "BI fundamentally offers--the ability to drill down into your reports."

Using Assessment to Build Curriculum

Even before NCLB came into being in 2002, mandating that school districts show adequate yearly progress (AYP), Naperville understood the need to gather student data for use in curricular development. Roughly seven years ago, the district began following a 10-point quality-improvement process for K-12 called Standard-Bearer, a set of standards developed by the Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform that provides school districts a framework by which to continuously measure and boost the quality of instruction and level of student engagement.

Naperville began applying aspects of the Standard-Bearer framework to the curriculum review process, while at the same time using a template called Understanding by Design, to help build its curriculum and units. UbD, the brainchild of

East Coast-based educators Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, is a structure for improving curriculum and instruction that asks questions such as: What aspect of this learning will still be relevant to the student in five years? How do you know students are learning what you expect them to? What will carry through to other layers of the curriculum and to the bigger picture? By posing those sorts of questions, combined with the quality-improvement process inherent to Standard-Bearer, Chiszar says the district began to change how it designed its assessments.

"You get into this whole idea of assessment," Chiszar says, "and how to write a good assessment--how to collect the data; how to understand if your authentic assessments are measuring things well; how to understand if [the curriculum] is working for the individual students."

As the StandardBearer and Understanding by Design precepts were implemented, fine-tuned, and then applied to developing assessments, a growing awareness of the need for good data developed. …