Texas system provides early warnings to help stem dropouts

Randy Sumrall, chief information officer for the Education Service Center (ESC) Region 10 in eastern North Texas, knows the importance of case management for individual students—that is, looking at where at-risk students are in their education, discovering where intervention needs to take place, deciding what that intervention will be, and giving them the additional instruction and follow-up they need.

So he was happy when, in 2005, the Technology and Data Services division of ESC Region 10 partnered with IBM to provide thought leadership to its client districts on the use of data warehousing and business intelligence to become more data-driven, and he was hired to lead the initiative.

ESC Region 10 is one of 20 education service agencies for the state of Texas. It provides administrative, instructional, and information services to 80 districts and 32 charter schools. ESC Region 10 and IBM built Empower, an educational data warehouse that could draw from multiple silos of data, such as student performance, student demographics, finance, and human resources, and provide comparisons across multiple school districts. The system runs on technology from IBM Cognos.

ESC Region 10 piloted the system with nine districts and began production with 15 districts. The biggest element the districts looked at was student performance. For example, said Sumrall, one district gave its principals a “snapshot” of their students multiple times through the year to pinpoint the students’ specific needs.

But at that point, Region 10 discovered the piloted districts were all it could handle. “Without charging unaffordable fees, we could not scale the system,” said Sumrall. “The data were much more diverse than we expected, with no data standard, even within a single student or business database vendor.”

At that time, the Texas Education Agency and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation announced their intention to create a state data warehouse based on a data standard to be developed. The state data warehouse would provide student performance dashboards throughout the state.

“We knew immediately that this would become the solution we were pursuing,” Sumrall said, and they transferred their intellectual property and assistance to the new Texas Student Data System. Now, Sumrall and the ESC Region 10 are helping to support two districts in a limited production of the Texas Student Data System. One solution stemming from the state system is the Reveal Dropout Early Warning System. It uses data from the state data warehouse to provide a comprehensive view of students at risk of dropping out, automatically and dynamically.

“At Region 10, we believe the data warehouse is only a part of the needed school information solution. There are four major areas where school information needs to be managed, and they are interconnected,” said Sumrall. “They are data warehousing and reports on student and teacher performance, predictive analysis of potential instructional and intervention solutions, management of content that is correlated to state standards with qualified built-in assessments, and case management to unify the efforts of multiple specialists that wrap around the needs of the individual students.”

As the Texas Student Data System is being developed, ESC Region 10 is helping its districts understand what data they have, what data they want, and what they want to use this information for. “If you want to be a data-driven district, you need to know what you want to collect. Often there’s a total disconnect between getting the data and knowing how to use it,” explained Sumrall.


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