School leaders are faced with the continuing challenge of effectively meeting the needs of every learner. At Western Heights Independent School District in Oklahoma, a district of six schools and 3,100 students, we’ve developed a model to harness emerging technologies to deliver real-time, relevant information on student performance to every teacher in every classroom.
By integrating advanced instructional and administrative software and instituting new policies, we’re now able to facilitate data-driven decision making at all levels: district, site, classroom, and student. We’ve leveraged this integration to achieve positive changes in reporting, instructional intervention, and finance.
Here’s our story…
At Western Heights, managing data became overwhelming for counselors, teachers, principals, and administration. Several IT systems existed to perform administrative functions, and consolidated reporting was performed manually. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) brought with it additional analysis and reporting requirements. Everyone was exasperated, trying to manually manage and report on the data, without an effective, integrated information system. Furthermore, the real-time data needed for instructional intervention was unavailable. These challenges prevented teachers from making effective, data-driven decisions, limited student instructional management to improve performance, caused inadequate and time-consuming reporting, and–we believed–cost us lost funding.
We saw in NCLB the opportunity to drive significant positive changes district-wide, which could increase our efficiencies and simultaneously improve student achievement. We embraced the task of aligning our Instructional Management System (IMS) and Student Information System (SIS) to create a foundation for multiple improvements. Our goals were to:
- Bring the best possible instruction to students;
- Identify at-risk students early, to enable corrective actions;
- Deliver to teachers critical student performance data and instructional support in real time;
- Meet and exceed the mandates of NCLB;
- Improve operational efficiencies; and
- Increase funding.
We believed that by integrating instructional and administrative applications, and by reporting on connections across these systems, we would be able to improve student performance.
A robust technological infrastructure was needed, and because the integration of data was imperative, we chose to leverage the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) model. Using a "best of breed" approach, we chose Microsoft’s Class Server as our IMS, Chancery Student Management System (SMS) and Win School as our SIS, and Intel’s Zone Integration Server (ZIS) to tie these and other systems together. The integration of our IMS (Class Server) and our SIS (Chancery) with other data-intensive systems–transportation, food service, health, and library–gave us the foundation to accomplish our goals.
To achieve the integration, we upgraded to the latest versions of Chancery SMS and Microsoft Class Server. These applications are each run by two servers: a front-end application and web server, and a second, back-end database server. These SIF-compliant solutions, together with a Mizuni ZIS, allow the district to populate all relevant systems with student information automatically as soon as it is entered for the first time in our SIS. Student registration information, longitudinal student records, and student assessment data then can be matched up and delivered to the correct teacher and class quickly and easily.
Using our SIS as a single point of data entry has greatly improved the accuracy of our student information. The resulting integration and sharing of information has streamlined our processes and reduced costs. One centralized department is responsible for data entry. We also have the freedom and flexibility to add many users to the system, with assigned rights based on their roles.
Implementation and professional development were accomplished over a two-month period during our summer vacation. Four teachers were designated as district trainers and were taken out of the classroom for training on all technology programs, including Class Server and Chancery SMS. Thirty-two other teachers functioned as site trainers, providing the first level of support.
We are achieving the gains we’d planned in reporting, instruction, and funding. Here’s a brief example for each.
Reporting and NCLB compliance
Real-time data and analysis enables powerful change. Our staff can look at data from Microsoft Class Server, Chancery SMS, and other applications simultaneously: grade levels, courses, student demographic information, state standards, lesson plans, assignments, test scores, and grades. This enables better data analysis and reporting. In addition, staff can audit the information, comparing the data across applications to verify data consistency.
We can predict Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) midway through the year and take positive measures to intercede. Imagine being able to determine, at any point in the school year, how every individual student is doing in any subject according to NCLB metrics. Before our systems integration, our only alternate solution was to hire more people to create reports. We’ve not only automated much of the reporting, we have leveraged the data to drive ongoing student improvement.
Oklahoma’s State Board of Education designed an Academic Performance Index (API) to measure the performance and progress of all schools and students. Indicators include attendance, graduation and dropout rates, test scores, and more. Each school’s API scores are used by the state to determine AYP. Our goal is to calculate API at intervals during the school year in a self-audit–before the state does the calculations for us. The resulting reports enable us to obtain and analyze the data in time to take constructive steps to improve student performance and meet AYP.
Real-time data and reporting allows us to modify the scope and sequence of instruction offered to each student, so that all students can stay on track. We use the interaction between Class Server and Chancery SMS to combine student and teacher performance data, analyze student learning styles, and more. Such analysis helps us determine instructional needs at the district, site, grade, teacher, and student levels.
We identify not only students who are under-performing, but also students "on the bubble"–a couple of points above or below the margin. We can determine what programs and approaches will help them move forward and match the appropriate teaching style to the student’s learning style. Such informed intervention enables us to devote finite resources optimally to achieve the greatest benefits to student learning.
Finance and funding
Integrating multiple applications has already helped us save money. In human-resource terms, staff used to spend weeks on a single report that is now completed in an hour or two. This represents tremendous time savings during the course of a year. We’ve also been able to reduce costs and improve the accuracy of the data using SIF to integrate all applications. With additional reporting requirements spawned by NCLB, we thought we had to hire more administrative help. Instead, using SIF-compliant applications for integrated reporting, we were able to contain costs and–owing to labor savings alone–the project will pay for itself in less than three years.
There are other real financial gains. The design of this system and its reporting capabilities have helped the district secure additional funding. By integrating our lunch program and our SIS, we were able to recover $500,000 in funds that we had been missing. Before the integration, it wasn’t apparent that some children were identified as eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, while their siblings were not. Leveraging the family management features of Chancery SMS, the validation of all students’ data enabled us to secure this additional funding.
All told, we believe that our school improvement model is viable for many other districts–small, medium, and large. We encourage other districts to devise a similar plan, leveraging the power of integration and continuous improvement.
Joe Kitchens is superintendent of the Western Heights Independent School District in Oklahoma City, Okla.