Data: It’s more than test scores

It’s pretty common these days to hear the term “data-driven decision-making” in education and assume it is synonymous with standardized test scores. But we all know that students are more than a set of test scores. And just like there are multiple ways to assess how a student performs, there are many dimensions to education data.  New digital tools are making it possible to build personalized student learning profiles that showcase both academic and non-academic data.

I got a chance to share this idea with many of my fellow education entrepreneurs at the recent White House Education Datapalooza event on October 9, which included special guests U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, and Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education Jim Shelton. It was our honor to present and learn about products, services and applications that have immense potential for advancing education achievement.

Digital tools make it possible for schools to go beyond the traditional gradebook. Yes, well-designed quizzes and demonstrated mastery of the new Common Core State Standards matter, but data doesn’t stop there.

Of the many innovations highlighted at the Education Datapalooza, the most promising were the ones building new data sets to uncover trends and insights in student achievement. Everfi, for example, captures data about student perceptions towards personal finance through game-based assessment. Knewton’s adaptive learning platform catches student misconceptions at a micro level as they progress through media-rich content. Gallup’s StrengthsFinder identifies students’ intrinsic talents, helping students navigate successfully from school to career.

And with Kickboard, teachers are keeping track of other factors that were historically (and sometimes mysteriously) rolled into the overall grade on a report card – class participation, timeliness and completion of work.

Keeping track of students’ character development and learning habits – and taking into account the process and thinking behind completing a task, not just whether they got it “right” – is essential to personalizing learning.

This holistic approach has the power to shift the culture of a school. Teachers no longer operate on an island within the confines of their classroom. Applications that capture a diversity of student data points allow for more collaboration and greater visibility between teachers and strengthen schoolwide culture. Using the same platform also creates consistency among staff, using the same language and normed expectations from classroom to classroom.

The promise of technology’s ability to serve up the right piece of content at the right time to the right student is exciting. But equally powerful is the potential for technology to break to the walls that silo classrooms. In the “gradebook of the future,” information is secure yet portable, making it possible for a teacher, counselor, principal or other school community member to be in touch with how each student is progressing.

The shift to a detailed student learning profile means greater transparency between school and home.

With the right diversity of data, we have the opportunity to redefine student achievement for the 21st century and foster a truly collaborative and performance-driven culture in schools. In a data-driven school, teachers aren’t obsessed with test scores, they’re determined to build a full picture of student performance – and a plan for how to help students do even better, academically and beyond.

Jennifer Medbery is a former teacher and founder and CEO of Kickboard, a schoolwide gradebook platform that supports performance and data driven school culture by helping teachers and school leaders keep track of whole student performance including academic achievement, character development and family engagement.

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