Magazine article Technology & Learning

Digging for Data: No Child Left Behind's Challenge: Collect, Analyze, and Use Information to Improve Student Performance. Here, We Offer Three Different Approaches. (What Works)

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Digging for Data: No Child Left Behind's Challenge: Collect, Analyze, and Use Information to Improve Student Performance. Here, We Offer Three Different Approaches. (What Works)

Article excerpt

Follow the Leader

Michael Lane, superintendent of the Virginia CUSD #64 in Virginia, Ill., is excited. "We now have the tools and capability to do the data-driven decision making required by the No Child Left Behind Act," he says. Lane's district is one of 75 participating in the first phase of Following the Leaders, a major initiative to support states as they respond to NCLB's requirements. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education and coordinated by the Education Leaders Council, the venture provides the technology and expertise necessary to ensure that standards and assessments are aligned at local, district, and state levels.

The project is based on the premise that to truly make an impact on individual student performance, parents, teachers, and administrators must have access to accurate, timely information. All too often, however, the data most needed to make informed decisions presents the biggest challenge to capture and analyze. Lane explains, "Prior to Following the Leaders, we relied on manual observation of test results. We would look at paper reports of class composite and individual scores. It was a time-consuming process. Now a teacher can go online and immediately find out where the class is as a whole or what each individual did."

Results from standardized tests can provide valuable insights, but these data offer only snapshots of student performance at a particular moment. Given the growing need to closely monitor student achievement, it is important that schools capture and use the daily flow of data that measures performance against state standards. Pearson Education Technologies, Plato Learning, Scantron, and many others offer management software for organizing such data. Following the Leaders schools are using the online Achieve 3.0 from Project Achieve to manage the volumes of data produced by students and teachers every day.

Teachers use the software's lesson planner component to organize the content, skills, and standards they will teach. As they plan a lesson, key concepts and skills are linked dynamically to the relevant state standards. The software then tracks how many times a standard has been taught, and individual student results are captured, linked to standards, and displayed in one place. At any time, teachers can see how a student is performing against any standard and then revise lesson planning, adjust pacing, and intervene before too much time is lost. In addition, schools in participating states have access to Project Achieve's Resource Center, a database of thousands of instructional activities. Lane believes this is a tremendous benefit to his teachers. "There are pools of lesson plans geared to each standard, so teachers can find resources to tailor their instruction to the needs of their students," he says.

One challenge Following the Leaders schools face is that many teachers are not initially eager to make the jump to a fully electronic planning and grading system. To ease these fears and build skill levels, project organizers arrange for teachers to have access to live consultants and online tutorials. "Teachers have been receptive because they see how much simpler it is to do standards-aligned lesson planning," says Lane. "It helps them find students' weaknesses and strengths." The result is instruction that is more targeted and efficient.

Building a District Data Warehouse

New York is taking on data-driven decision making in a big way. Each of the state's 12 Regional Information Centers--nonprofits that provide cooperative technology services to school districts--is offering data warehousing services to its constituent districts. A data warehouse brings together data from a variety of disparate information systems in a school district (e.g., attendance, grades, demographics, and test scores) to a single location and makes that data accessible for complex analysis and reporting. Maureen McCarthy, manager of data warehousing for the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center, explains, "We believe that by helping districts standardize and integrate student performance information, we will provide administrators, teachers, parents, and students with tools to improve student and school performance. …

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