New Information Systems Track Student Progress: NCLB Prompts Districts to Improve Data Collection
Dessoff, Alan, District Administration
When the school board and superintendent of the Matanuska-Susitna, or Matsu, Borough School District in Alaska decided in 2002 to have the district's information systems audited, they found that the district had insufficient data about student attendance, grades, test results, graduation rates, and other measures of student and teacher performance. The system that the district was using to track what was happening in its classrooms was inadequate to perform such tasks, says Marie Burton, the district's technology director.
Administrators in the Birmingham City Schools in Alabama had similar problems. "We were having a terrible time," says Darryl Burroughs, director of student information systems, or SIS. The system did not keep information accurate and current, and enrollment records listed the same students in multiple schools, he says.
Now, prompted largely by the reporting requirements under the No Child Left Behind law, the Matsu and Birmingham districts have sophisticated student information systems that allow them to efficiently collect the data they need and save staff resources.
Both districts use SchoolMAX, a Web-based SIS developed by Reston, Va.-based MAXIMUS, a provider of program management, consulting, and information technology services to government agencies, including more than 2,000 public school systems.
By using SchoolMAX and other software or Web-based systems developed by other companies, teachers and administrators can quickly enter, access and report accurate, real-time information about all aspects of student performance by grade, school and district levels. SchoolMAX users have online access to a single database that contains timely student, family and school information for the year, as well as historical data. In the end, the life history of student progress is available.
Before NCLB, it was common practice for every school to collect student information in its own way. "They had different ways of reporting it," and district offices had difficulty putting it all together, says Lou Chappuie, SchoolMAX project manager in the Los Angeles Unified School District and vice president of MAXIMUS.
Now districts can quickly collect data in the same format from all schools and generate the reports they must submit to comply with NCLB and other state education agency requirements.
In Birmingham--an urban district with about 29,000 students in 66 schools and an 85 percent poverty rate--one server was in every school, and each worked independently of the others. "To create a system-wide report required extracting data from every location and pulling it all together," recalls Burroughs. "It was horrible." Another problem in Birmingham is that families "move constantly, so we have a lot of kids moving from school to school," Burroughs adds, and other students move out of the district altogether.
When NCLB was implemented in early 2001, administrators scrambled to devise quality and thorough reports that were mandated under the law. "We almost had to shut down everything else and focus on NCLB to get the information from the schools so that we could create the reports that we needed," Burroughs says.
Until it installed SehoolMAX, the district had no centralized way to keep up with enrollment changes in its schools and often found that the same children were listed in different schools. A central database now allows administrators to quickly spot and correct situations like that, Burroughs says. "Now we can do in two or three hours what would have taken weeks, maybe a month, before," he says. "I feel like we have moved into the 21st century."
Districts that contract with MAXIMUS get extensive on-site training in how to use SchoolMAX. When Birmingham installed the system, "they had 25 to 30 people in our district for about two weeks, going from school to school to help us get the system up," Burroughs says. …