New York state and national education initiatives are looking to new solutions to connect student data, Common Core, and personalized learning

big-data-studentIt’s a theme often discussed during national education technology conferences across the country: “Now that we have the data, what do we do with it?” With guidance from a Bill & Melinda Gates technology company that’s leading the industry in innovative solutions for schools, districts, and states, big data is finally being put to actionable use.

ConnectEDU, a privately held technology company committed to preparing students on their pathways from school to college to career, serves more than 20 million registered learners, 5,000 educational institutions, and 130,000 employers throughout 40 countries.

The company’s mission is also directly aligned with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s focus on college- and career-readiness, and personalized learning.

(Next page: Common Core data tool)

In line with this mission, ConnectEDU recently received an innovation grant from the foundation as part of the Foundation’s Literacy Courseware Challenge for $500,000–the highest amount given—to develop a web-based teaching and learning platform that tracks student progress against literacy skills outlined in the Common Core.

The grant was awarded after a rigorous evaluation process that required ConnectEDU to submit a detailed technical proposal and execution plan, which will be refined in collaboration with the foundation during the early stages of the project.

ConnectEDU’s data tool will enable teachers to engage students with more personalized instruction and learning resources by using a recommendations engine that maps student achievement data to new content standards.

The company believes this data tool will be useful because it will be “using student achievement data to help students and educators identify digital learning resources that address specific skills/learning objectives where students need further assistance in order to reach the standards set by the Common Core,” said Nick Franco, senior director of Business Development for ConnectEDU. “Connecting student progression through Common Core standards to the college and career transition planning process more broadly,” is another practical application of the tool.

Franco explained that the company ultimately hopes to “help educators and students by making it easier to navigate new standards; identify relevant, high-quality digital learning resources; and create a personalized learning experience.”

As an example of how the tool might work, Franco said educators will be able to view a dashboard that indicates individual student or “cohort” performance against a specific Common Core standard for literacy (based on integrated formative and summative assessment data). Educators will then be able to view the suggested learning resources that address this standard from a “repository of curated digital content that has been tagged with meta data aligned to Common Core standards for literacy.”

ConnectEDU will serve as an aggregator for third party digital literacy courseware, explained Franco, to be developed by other companies participating in the challenge.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has already assembled a number of schools to pilot products developed as part of the Literacy Courseware Challenge and will pilot products in two waves. The first will be January 2014-May 2014; and the second wave will be January 2015-May 2015.

(Next page: District and state data initiatives)

Tailoring at the district level

Along with the Literacy Courseware Challenge data tool, ConnectEDU is also working with the National Academy Foundation (NAF) and its 500 academies located across 39 states to provide teachers and administrators individual feedback on needed improvement.

The NAF wanted to base their improvement decisions on student data, and therefore needed a collection and analysis system of Big Data, leading them the ConnectEDU.

Working with the NAF, ConnectEDU will benchmark and measure internal NAF Academy data and compare it against national averages and public school students in the same districts.

By comparing national averages and students in the same district, “NAF [can] demonstrate the efficacy of their model by reporting on the success of students who pass through their programs vis a vis peer cohorts,” said Franco. “It enables NAF to drive continuous improvement efforts relative to the successful implementation of their model across a broad range of districts.”

New York wants in

ConnectEDU is also one of three vendors New York State’s Education Department chose to build a customized Education Data Portal that will be used by students, parents, and educators in the state to track progress and deliver personalized learning resources for the Common Core Standards.

“The data portal will serve a similar function as the Apple App Store in that it is intended to be a repository for a variety of third party applications,” Franco explained. “The data portal will have its own URL, but users will have access to a variety of education apps within the portal, depending on their role and permissions level.”

ConnectEDU will connect end users of the portal to digital resources contained in the state’s “EngageNY” http://www.engageny.ord content repository.

The New York State Education Department currently plans to launch the Education Data Portal in the spring of 2014.