Web portal helps California schools track and analyze data

New regulations set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)—requiring schools to produce disaggregated data on everything from student achievement to teacher assessment—have educators searching for ways to funnel those numbers toward improved instruction.

Now, California state officials have found a solution that promises to provide customizable, online access to assessment tools, professional development materials, and other data management resources from a centralized location.

The California Department of Education has implemented a web portal from iAssessment Inc., called the Gateway Presentation System (GPS), as part of its California Technology Assistance Project, a program to help educators better determine their level of technology proficiency.

According to iAssessment, GPS was developed as a tool that would tie the data collected by educators from across the state into one centralized location, where the data could be broken out and distributed to teachers and administrators in a safe, secure, and customized environment.

The idea is to take the overwhelming amount of data collected on everything from student achievement to standardized testing and package it in such a way that lets educators easily extract the information they need to better fulfill their individual roles, said Dan Cookson, co-founder of iAssessment.

“We provide a framework to help them manage how the data [are] distributed,” Cookson said.

According to Cookson, that framework was designed with three key aspects in mind: providing access to professional development systems, making available tools for assessment, and offering a way to report data and qualify results.

Nancy Sullivan, manager of the California Department of Education’s office of educational technology, said GPS already has been helpful in assessing how well-prepared teachers are for new technology integration.

Sullivan said teachers can log onto the system and find information that displays how well their current skills match up against changing requirements and those of incoming teachers.

“If you know a teacher is lacking in a certain area, you can provide and plan for much better professional development programs,” Sullivan said.

Arizona uses a similar web portal from iAssessment to measure its teachers’ technology proficiency. But what separates California’s project is that it expands on this idea to include tools for data collection and analysis as well.

Cookson believes the program also is an effective way to help report data on school improvement. For instance, he said, educators could use the system to help determine how well grant monies were distributed and used throughout the state.

What’s more, GPS recognizes that teachers are not statisticians. In fact, Cookson said, many educators are intimidated by the sheer volume of data it takes to map out certain levels of assessment and achievement—information now required under the new federal legislation.

Sullivan agreed: “With NCLB, we really need to be able to read the data.”

While there are a number of computerized options available to help school leaders disaggregate and qualify certain data, the GPS system contains a unique profiling function, which automatically identifies and calls up information that is relevant to the specific needs of a given user—providing a clear advantage that allows educators to cut through superfluous data, Cookson said.

For example, if an eighth-grade science teacher was logged onto the system, GPS would recognize automatically who that teacher was and call up all data and information relevant to science instruction—whereas if a principal or administrator logged on, the data supplied would be tailored to meet his or her own needs. Principals could access the online training profiles of teachers or review spending and budget statistics, and first-year teachers likely would encounter information about extended certification classes and professional development courses.

According to Cookson, the GPS system requires all users to log on under a secure password and user name. Once an educator is logged on, the system processes exactly who the educator is and then returns all data relevant to the subject he or she teaches or the area of administration for which he or she is responsible.

“The role that you have in the system affects exactly how we are going to package the information to you,” Cookson said. “Educators and administrators get only the information that is relevant to them.”

Further, GPS does not require that schools perform a complete overhaul of their data collection, storage, and assessment procedures before implementing the system. Instead, GPS simply incorporates what the school, district, or state already has available and makes it accessible through shared channels, or data silos.

“We can tie into these other data points,” Cookson said. “We don’t want people to think they have to replace existing systems. It helps them to leverage what they already have in place.”

By using existing systems, Cookson claims his company’s program automatically saves schools in costly overhead and other expenses related to mining data for proper online distribution.

The program also does not waste time and money on long, drawn-out implementation processes. Cookson said clients should expect to have a fully functional beta site up and running in less than a week—with a live site, featuring customized resources, expected in a month’s time.

“Our system can be scaled from hundreds of users to hundreds of thousands of users,” Cookson said.

The price, of course, directly depends of the size and scope of the services to be offered, he said.

Although California is the only state currently using iAssessment’s GPS system to package and deliver its educational data, Cookson said the program can be operated on a district-wide or statewide basis and that at least two other states have expressed an interest in obtaining the service.

GPS “has given educators access to data in ways we’ve never had before,” said Suillivan. “We’ve done a nice job of putting data into the system, and we do have information coming out [so that educators] can use it.”


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