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Beyond ESSA: How to use your data to make informed decisions

With the right tools, your district can save time and identify ways to improve student performance

The deadline has passed for states to submit final Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans. Now it’s up to school districts to figure out how to capture and report data about student performance. While the additional reporting can seem like a burden, buried in that task is a great opportunity to boost strategic decision-making capabilities. District administrators just need a simple method to look at student data in a new way.

ESSA reporting requirements include the need to publish specific educational data sets separated by student subgroups and categories. School districts are challenged to rethink how they collect, analyze, and present data.

One Chicago-area high school district—let’s call it Chi-High—discovered the data needed for ESSA compliance reports also provides the administration with key insights about students. Better yet, they are using that discovery to move the needle on student performance.

Silos of data

Chi-High first had to figure out how to address the issue of siloed data. They had troves of information about students stored in their student information system, a data storage warehouse, and Excel spreadsheets on various administrator’s computers. They wondered, “How can we retrieve the stats we want and combine inputs meaningfully without adding costly resources?”

Chi-High simplified the process by using an analytics platform that pulls data into one sandbox as needed from disparate systems. Instead of having district staff manually extract data from several sources to populate complex spreadsheets, the analytics platform refreshes data and related analytics automatically. Reports populated with key data points are set to run at regular intervals and automatically feed into an analytics platform engine that calculates specific key performance indicators (KPIs).

Do more than just meet federal requirements

The value of the time saved with the analytics platform is immeasurable to the productivity of the district’s administrative team to meet ESSA requirements. But, Chi-High quickly discovered they could do even more with the tool.

Here’s where the real value emerges.

Chi-High administrators meet six times a year to review students’ grades in a distribution model. Department heads use this data to make informed decisions about course offerings, align support services to student needs, and review students’ progress toward college and career readiness standards and workplace experience courses.

Previously, a request was sent at six-week intervals to the district’s data managers to pull course schedules and grades for all students. Then a team of administrators spent weeks formatting it in complicated spreadsheets. By the time the report was complete, it was time to request the data for the next reporting period. Administrators made decisions based on data that was already a reporting period old.

Now, Chi-High proactively uses near-real-time data to make effective changes. Through a series of pre-set dashboards, they can review distribution models within a day of the data collection. The administrative team and department heads can quickly make decisions supporting student readiness and performance growth.

Bringing data to life

The easy-to-read, customizable dashboards provide a quick analysis at a number of levels depending on what a reviewer wants to study. In just a few clicks, Chi-High can drill down from a district level to an individual student.

For example, Chi-High set up a guided dashboard for Advanced Placement (AP) enrollments and exam scores to drill into metrics to track AP data.

  • District: What percent of students enroll in AP courses? What are average AP exam scores and grades? How are these metrics distributed in the district across various student demographics such as race/ethnicity, gender, Individual Education Plan, or low income?
  • Building views: This view uses the same metrics as the district-level but focuses on each school building. It also includes enrollment rates and AP exam scores by course.
  • AP course: Tracks the demographic makeup of each AP course, enrollment, and exam score trends, plus specific students in each course.
  • Individual students: Student profiles are populated with relevant information to assess performance and needs, including student’s demographic information, attendance rate and trend, co-curricular involvement, course history and grade list, SAT scores, and other KPIs deemed important.

Added analytics in action

Chi-High also discovered the analytics platform simplifies the process of assessing student performance according to their established segmentation model.

The segmentation model places students into career and college tracks based on specific metrics. The district uses the model to ensure students stay on the right path—or move to a higher path—and are ready for the next step when they graduate.

Because the entire district now has tools to view the same metrics, they can have honest conversations about changes that need to be made.

Going beyond ESSA

Every state has some flexibility to set standards for how it measures student performance to meet the ESSA mandate. As more districts like Chi-High discover the impact of reporting requirements and realize there are opportunities to do more with new analytics capabilities, they’ll need to collect, analyze, and review data outputs. With the right tools, they will find they can save time and have better analysis to identify ways to improve student performance.

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