Teachers and school leaders sometimes disagreed on how easy it is to use data in the classroom effectively.

State education leaders, district leaders, and teachers disagree on the effectiveness of student information systems (SIS) and learning management systems (LMS) they use to capture data to improve instruction, a new survey reveals.

During a Dec. 13 webinar hosted by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), experts from analyst group Gartner Inc., the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), and CoSN discussed current attitudes toward LMS and SIS software use in schools.

The panelists also discussed how creating online communities of practice can help school district leaders better learn how to integrate data into instruction, and they shared some key advice for teachers and school district leaders.

The Gartner-AASA-CoSN initiative, called Closing the Gap: Turning SIS/LMS Data into Action, will produce reports and case studies on various aspects of SIS and LMS software use in schools. The partnership also aims to:

  • Give school and district leaders a broader understanding of current LMS and SIS capabilities, and inform them about teachers’ needs for meaningful data and how to integrate data into classroom instruction.
  • Help educators and school leaders better select, procure, and implement SIS and LMS solutions.
  • Empower school leaders and teachers to analyze student performance and work together on how better to support and motivate students.

Ivy Anderson, a managing partner in Gartner’s State and Local Government Consulting practice, said the reports are intended to help school districts and state education departments gain a more complete understanding of the current state of SIS and LMS solutions, how those solutions provide data, and how those data are used in the classroom. The reports also will help school leaders become more fully engaged in a dialog about how to implement best practices in data use.

“We believe that assessment and curriculum professionals and leadership will be able to learn from the practices, especially from those districts that demonstrate they’re using [data] effectively,” Anderson said.

Anderson previewed the results from a survey planned for release in February, in which 574 school and district leaders provided feedback on their SIS and LMS systems, practices, and the intersection of data and instruction. More than 1,000 teachers, 80 percent of whom are already active SIS or LMS software users, also were interviewed about their experiences using SIS and LMS solutions in the classroom and what barriers they encountered as they tried to use data to inform classroom instruction.

“The findings from each role indicate that the education community disagrees on the effectiveness of SIS/LMS solutions and the training in place to encourage their usage,” Anderson said.

District leaders, state leaders, and teachers disagree about their satisfaction with LMS and SIS solutions and training: District leaders and teachers are generally satisfied with their SIS solutions, but state leaders are not. District and state leaders said that a wide variety of training is available to encourage the use of data in classroom practices, but teachers said training content is weak and does not provide the necessary information to help them best combine data and instruction.

District leaders, state leaders, and teachers all agree that both SIS and LMS solutions do not fully meet their needs, and they cited aspects of the current educational culture that present barriers to increased use of data in the classroom, which ultimately affects student learning.

More details will be released with the full survey results, but Anderson said the groups do have some suggestions for teachers and education leaders.

District and state leaders should:

  • Revise SIS/LMS training programs to better address the areas of most need to teachers, which are: (1) actionable methods for translating data from SIS/LMS solutions into classroom practices and lessons, and (2) shortcuts and tricks that decrease the time needed to enter and extract data.
  • When considering a new solution or modifications to an existing solution, develop solution requirements and enhancement requests that present data in simple dashboards and reduce the number of screens and clicks necessary to collect and retrieve data.

Teachers should:

  • Initiate discussions within their teams and professional learning communities to brainstorm more effective training and professional development options for using data in the classroom.
  • Use information in the forthcoming reports to recommend training opportunities and academic programs for teachers and students.
  • Aggressively seek training, both formal and collaborative, on their respective SIS and LMS solutions and in using and interpreting classroom data.

Ann Ware, a project director at CoSN, said schools can use the information in the forthcoming Gartner reports to spur the formation of communities of practice, which will help school leaders and teachers learn how to use the data found in SIS and LMS solutions to strengthen classroom instruction.


A community of practice is a group of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis, Ware said.

The “Closing the Gap” project includes 16 districts that are forming communities of practice around two themes:

  • “Bridging SIS and LMS in New Ways” will explore the use of formative assessment data to inform classroom instruction and standards-based content.
  • “Growing a Data-Rich Culture” will focus on creating a learning ecosystem that fosters continuous use of data to strengthen instruction.

Schools are taking their SIS and LMS solutions in new directions, said Anderson, and there now exists a blurring of the lines between the two types of software, because some SIS solutions have LMS capabilities and vice-versa. What’s more, the functionalities of the software are changing as education’s demands change.

“The distinctions that we’re making today [between the two types of solutions]—moving forward, we’ll see some of those distinctions go away,” she said.

Being able to access data on the go, and having the ability to understand what’s going on in classrooms at the minute level, while also understanding trends, is another change on the horizon, she said.

“Social media and mobility [will change our] ability to get input from students in a way we haven’t been able to in the past,” Anderson said.

Communication—and what is meant by the terms SIS and LMS—is improving, too.

“I think that there is increasingly better dialog between districts and state departments of education about what those specific data elements are, and what they mean, and the quality around the data,” Ware said. “At a national level, we know many states now have longitudinal data systems, and that they’re collecting information, but … they’re also hopefully providing that information back to districts [after validating it] for use at the district and classroom levels. What we’re hearing more now is that people have used [these] data as a flashlight to determine which students are doing well and which may need some more support.”