Beyond Data to Insights and Action

September 12, 2013

“Big Data” has become a buzzword within edtech circles and learning analytics is a Top Edtech Trend driven in part by increased accountability. However, the overwhelming amount of education data can often be inaccessible to those that need it most, educators and school leaders. This may be the reason that only 50% of administrators surveyed by the Center for Digital Education see improved student outcomes from the use of big data.

I believe in the power of data to improve student outcomes and know that transformation is most likely to happen when data is presented in a simple format that highlights key insights and action steps. The NewSchools Seed Fund has invested in companies that are leveraging data to help educators answer key questions at both the classroom and administrator level.

Just gaining access to key data can be a challenge and I learned that one COO didn’t even know how many schools were in his district. Schoolzilla makes getting this and other data easy. During a pilot at one district, principals and regional leaders asked:

The district wants us to focus on reducing chronic absence so why don’t they give us a weekly report showing whether it’s going up or down?

Seems easy, right? It turns out many districts’ data systems were built to view the most recent day of data. In order to provide principals with an analysis of chronic absence over time, the data would need to be saved, exported and pulled together manually, a very time consuming process. Schoolzilla and the district worked together to build tools to do day-to-day trend analysis of chronic absence and now school leaders can make real-time interventions.  

In addition to making data easier to access, Schoolzilla makes data easier to understand. I appreciate edtech companies that focus on the user experience and this is exactly what Schoolzilla has done by delivering beautiful, well-designed data visualizations. One teacher who uses Schoolzilla’s free California Standards Test (CST) explorer app explained:

I had never seen 3 years of CST data together by strand. When I saw it on Schoolzilla I realized we had really improved on writing proficiency.  That was so exciting! I showed the whole team because they’d worked their butts off on writing proficiency and it was so great to know it paid off.

Actionable data is also paying off when it comes to the budgeting and planning process. As a self-proclaimed data geek, I use data to guide my decision making and love how BrightBytes is helping administrators do the same. BrightBytes’ Clarity Platform is a comprehensive, easy to use tool that helps schools assess the impact of technology use on student achievement.

For example, In early 2010 South Middleton School District began implementing 21st century learning initiatives including driving the adoption of an internal Learning Management System (LMS) among teachers. The only information available about the success of their technology initiatives, however, was whether or not teachers had utilized an LMS. Without actionable data, South Middleton was no closer to building modern classrooms and driving learning outcomes than before.

Fast forward to 2012 and the implementation of Clarity. South Middleton district leaders immediately saw a number of areas for specific, targeted action. Sharonn Williams, Director of Instructional Technology, remarked:

Our results showed that very few of our teachers participated in social networking and most complained of limited time for training to improve their weak skills.

In response, the district started a Powerful Learning Practice Committee in each building and registered teachers for an online professional development and collaboration site. They also instituted Digital Learning Days and hosted an intensive three-day Technology Initiative Boot Camp.

South Middleton’s use of Clarity data created transparency throughout the district, provided a common language for addressing its schools’ education technology needs, enabled cost and time savings, and informed decisions that support teacher growth and ultimately student achievement.  

I am excited to see more and more edtech companies helping schools become data fanatics. As data continues to be at the center of edtech conversations, I hope there will be an emphasis on making data digestible and actionable so that all school leaders see improved student outcomes from leveraging big data.