Portage Public Schools, near Kalamazoo, Mich., is a district with a tradition of high standards and performance. Standard & Poor's School Evaluation Services (www.ses.standaradandpoors.com) reports that the district's above-average student results with spending are comparable to those at the statewide level. The district's per-student expenditures are on par with state averages, but lower than the average spending of S&P's peer districts with similar demographics. Equally impressive, Portage's student results in terms of test scores, graduation rates and percentages of college-bound students also exceed its S&P peer group.
So when Dan Vomastek, Portage Public Schools assessment and student information systems coordinator, began looking for new data collection, management and analysis solutions, he wanted answers that matched the school district's high-performance philosophy. "We had been collecting and using massive amounts of student performance data each year, but we did not have the benefit of a centralized, standardized data collection and analysis system," says Vomastek. "We could, however, see the many advantages in achieving real-time assessment and student performance information to support continual curriculum development and improvement."
According to Vomastek, Portage Public Schools has taken an integrated, long-term view in planning and implementing its new strategic curriculum and assessment programs. The district's investment in technology, related support services, personnel and professional development is critical in preparing to meet the accountability and reporting requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act and the Michigan State Board of Education's Education YES! accreditation system.
The district's objectives included having all 14 of its schools fully participate in electronic grade and attendance reporting by the end of last year, as well as introducing the opportunity for students and parents to monitor grades via the Internet. Further, the district was very clear about its data collection goals:
* Achieve efficiency in collecting assessment data necessary to relate student grades to the district's standards and benchmarks.
* Develop efficient methods to help faculty and staff in collecting data.
* Add computing power to the district's analysis of individual and group achievement.
Consequently, Portage Public Schools issued a formal "Request for Proposal." Vomastek was firm on the requirement for a non-proprietary data format. "We did a tremendous amount of background research and analysis," says Vomastek. "When data is in a proprietary format it can hurt a district in the long run, so open architecture was absolutely critical to us."
Making a 'Future-Proof' Decision
Portage Public Schools chose the Pinnacle Plus District Data Manager (DDM) solution from Excelsior Software Inc. In spring 2001, the district deployed Pinnacle Plus and Excelsior's Gradebook2 to collect and analyze student performance data. In addition, the district continues to use a student information system provided by the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (KRESA). Based on Microsoft Visual FoxPro, this system supports reporting required by Michigan as well. But, the district sought to improve the system's attendance, grading and reporting functionality. Portage Public Schools also sought to enhance its ability to aggregate student data for longitudinal querying and analysis.
In choosing Pinnacle Plus, Vomastek was confident that the new system would integrate well with the established KRESA system. "The Pinnacle Plus system's data source is open in a standard SQL Server, which provides us with access through both Crystal Reports and Access," he says. The district operates with a 100 MB fiber backbone, enabling Vomastek to manage the Pinnacle Plus system centrally with three servers:
* One server runs in "Terminal Server" mode to support each school's Pinnacle services;
* A second server manages teachers' gradebook directories; and
* The third server supports the Pinnacle Plus DDM SQL database application, which automatically collects and aggregates each school's data for multiyear longitudinal analysis and reporting. …