Thursday, July 7, 2011

Data Driven Decision Making Final Project

Here is the final project for ED 568A - Digital Tools for Data Driven Decision Making. First, here is my Screencast made via Jing ...

One other point ... Jing limits screencasts to 5 minutes and I did not realize how long winded I am! I have attached a copy of the original Powerpoint presentation to my post on the Arcadia website. Here is the link:

Also, here is a link to my classroom website, which is one of the supplemental resources to which I referred in my presentation


Friday, June 24, 2011

Managing the Data Warehouse

One of the challenges of being in a large school district is being physically removed from the main administration building where most of the administrative systems reside and the administrative work is done. The IT contact person in my building has responsibility for managing any issues with individual laptops, One of the challenges of taking a course during the summer is having limited access to persons with knowledge of the inside workings of our district. So I will be writing this post from the perspective of the gentleman with whom I spoke regarding the survey of our SIS / CIA systems, Mr. Craig Dilks.

Craig appears to be the owner / manager of the data within our district or manages those who have that responsibility. As the district's Director of MIS, the tasks mentioned – managing the servers, insuring the data warehouse is clean, and running the reports – all fall under Craig's domain. I am aware of one mathematics teacher who requests certain reports from Craig in order to create some applications used in our school for creating an employee directory accessible to the staff within our building. Craig will run these as requested and return the information to Bill in a timely basis.

Bernhardt states that “not having someone who knows the entire system could spell disaster” (Bernhardt, p. 159) and Craig is that man in our district. As mentioned in my SIS / CIA post, Craig included personnel in many different capacities in defining requirements and implementation of the SIS systems, which is consistent with Bernhardt's assertion that “most districts have at least one IT person and someone with an education background working together to maintain their data warehouses” (Bernhardt, p. 159). User support for using the data warehouse is provided on an “as needed” basis. For example, when we implemented the online grading component of eSchoolplus this past school year, teachers were provided with electronic documentation, written documentation, voluntary small group training, and a “super user” contact person in our building to answer questions. Fortunately for me, the teacher who was the super user in our building was my next door neighbor, giving me an unfair advantage in learning to use this new piece of software!

Bernhardt, V.L. (2008). Translating data into information to improve teaching and learning. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education, Inc.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Raising Learning Levels in Mathematics

I agree with Diana that finding a publication relevant to this topic has been difficult. But, I believe I found a good article related to mathematics.

William Tate's publication “Access and Opportunities to Learn are Not Accidents” (Tate) discusses eliminating the achievement gap in mathematics for African American and Latino / Hispanic and female students. Because of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) both state- and national-level mathematics standards have been established. Tate contends that there are research-based strategies which can be used to improve both the teaching and learning of mathematics. Stated briefly, Tate says that “designing appropriate solutions (to schools' mathematics problem) will require creativity, hard choices, performance tests, iterative action, and evaluation.” (Tate, p. 6)

The achievement gap for various ethnic groups has been magnified by the fact that school-age population became more diverse between 1980 and 1990 (Tate, p. 7). Tate states that “one reason many schools lack the insight to make appropriate instructional changes is related to how they organize and analyze data” (Tate, p. 9). Two different studies – the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS) of 1988 – showed similar trends. The NAEP study showed improvement in mathematics achievement for all ethnic groups from 1973-1999, but no group performing on average at the highest performance level. The NELS study of over 10,000 students in nearly 800 high schools nationwide showed that African Americans, Hispanics, and Whites made statistically significant gains in mathematics achievement and that the gains made by African American and Hispanic students were larger than those of white students (Tate, p. 12).

With the problem defined, Tate explains potential solutions which he terms as “Opportunity to Learn” (OTL) factors: time, quality, and design. Tate states that “two of the most powerful predictors of school mathematics achievement … have been (a) increased time on task in high-level mathematics and (b) the number of courses taken in mathematics” (Tate, p. 16). “Quality” corresponds to the quality of professional development, quality of curriculum, and quality of instruction. With regards to quality of curriculum, Tate states that “each school should design an academic plan based on local mathematics standards and an associated accountability structure” (Tate, p. 30).

Tate indicates that part of quality education is having educators who are eager to listen to each other and students, who are open to a variety of educational solutions, and are never content with just trial and error methods. These are the types of teachers and instructional leaders who can engineer changes in mathematics education.

Tate VI, W. (2005). Access and opportunities to learn are not accidents: Engineering mathematical progress in your school. Greensboro, NC: Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Presenting the Data

The intended audience for the attached Powerpoint presentation is a group of teachers / administrators in our school who may not be completely familiar with the advantages of using Data Driven tools for transforming schools, classrooms, and individual students. This presentation would be supplemental to some specific examples of data driven tools to be used within the school district.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Data Driven School

Positive Aspects of Using Data

It is an interesting process to sit back and take a bird's eye view at the processes that are being done in my school district with respect to collection and use of that data within the school and classroom. There are many positive aspects of using data to drive school wide decisions. I will speak specifically about the Reading High Mathematics Department, which is where I teach. We have over twenty mathematics teachers in the high school, so it is good to take a look at our specific group.

From a school wide perspective, it is beneficial to have data for all students in the school for a number of reasons. First, if there is a desire to group students with higher or lower competencies, this type of schoolwide data can help to group students appropriately. Second, it is easy to spot trends – either good or bad – which may be happening throughout the entire student population. This can give the school and teachers the ability to focus and/or refocus the curriculum accordingly.

Regarding individual students, it is helpful to look at the data and to help the students see, for example, how close they may be to being “Proficient” or “Advanced” in certain categories. For example, when our students take the 4Sight exams each quarter, their math teachers get their results. So, besides reviewing the exam questions in whole to determine the trends and look at which areas need further review, we can also look at the results with individual students and help them raise their scores to Proficient or Advanced.

Technological and Cultural Challenges at Reading School District

One thing that I believe would be helpful would be to have regular reports sent by email to teachers regarding the students within their classes. The challenges that I see is that I am not 100% certain that reports can be grouped by individual classes at the current time. So when the students take exams, it is a challenging logistical effort to sort the tests by individual teacher. I believe that some of the aspects of the technology are in place, but am not 100% sure that it is ready for “prime time” use.

Integrating Data Driven Decisions in the Mathematics Classroom

Once the correct tools are in place, the data can be used in my classroom to focus on the areas where most of the students are struggling. If my students are doing well on Order of Operations but not doing well on Work and Rate Problems, I can focus my classroom lessons appropriately. If individual students are struggling in specific areas, I can customize Study Island lessons which will help them to raise their level of proficiency.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

School District Analysis

I spent a fair bit of time on the Reading School District website and did not find any information regarding the school's vision / mission statements. I was quickly able to find vision / mission statements on three other public school districts within my county, so I am sad that this information is not readily available on my school's website. With that said, I will do my best to comment on how the district supports a culture of data.

In the area of instruction, our school is in the process of implementing Learning Focused Solutions over a period of three years (“Learning Focused”). Learning Focused provides “practical and innovative solutions and products with an emphasis on advanced student learning, instructional practices, and leadership skills”. What this means in practical terms is that all of the teachers in my school have received training on activating strategies, essential questions, graphic organizers, student learning maps, and summarizing strategies. As a relatively new teacher, this process has been overwhelming at times. But the fact that these solutions are being implemented over the course of time has been very helpful to me.

As an example, let me expand about Essential Questions. An “essential question” is a question that students may not know at the beginning of a class period, but should know by the end of the class period. A mathematics example is “How do I solve a quadratic equation using the quadratic formula?” In order to answer this question, a student must be able to identify a quadratic equation, put the equation in standard form, identify the “a, b, and c” variables, substitute these values into the quadratic formula, and perform the math necessary to solve the quadratic equation. The essential question presumes some prior knowledge on the students' part – such as being able to identify a quadratic equation. The idea of an essential question is to keep the students – and teacher – focused on the day's objective. At the end of the lesson, students should have the ability to answer the day's essential question.

In the area of assessment, our school conducts 4Sight tests in Reading and Math each quarter of the year. These tests are scored and the results provided to the subject area teachers in order to give their students feedback on their progress with relation to proficiency. As a teacher, I have the ability to review the test questions with my students and help them to improve their scores throughout the year. It is helpful for students to see their own progress throughout the year as well.

In terms of environment, there is a fair bit of data available for helping our students to improve. The most visible example is the Study Island data used in preparation for PSSA testing. The weekly PSSA assignments are compiled and analyzed by administrative staff in order to provide focused instruction in the weeks immediately prior to PSSA testing. This strategy has been successful in the English Department and was implemented for the first time in the Math Department in the 2010-11 school year.

In terms of data use, I know that there is a lot of data available about my students in different places – eSchoolplus and Performance Tracker – but it is only used sporadically to help analyze our students. I can certainly look at a student's personal information and see how he/she is performing in all classes. I can also see other personal contact information and medical / special needs alerts. But as far as having focused, coherent data which will help me to raise that student's level of knowledge in Mathematics, the 4Sight information mentioned earlier is the best data that I have at my disposal.

Learning Focused. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Data Warehouse Needs Analysis

There are many considerations to be made when researching and choosing a data warehouse solution for an organization. To complete a detailed needs analysis would take a number of days and meetings with key personnel. With that said, it is difficult to add much to the information detailed by Bernhardt's book (Bernhardt, pp. 57-72). I will be addressing these needs in a more generic way, since Reading School District already has a data warehouse in place.

As I thought through the process and choices of key committee members, I came up with a similar list to Bernhardt: IT staff, project manager, principals, vice principals, other administrators, teachers, finance office personnel, and school board members. The roles of the members vary depending on the phase of the project, which would be laid out by the project manager. Initially, the project team should meet and determine the priorities for choosing a system – eg, speed of implementation, maximizing system features, bottom line cost, etc. Timing and cost are most often considerations, as it makes sense for systems to be installed at logical timeframes – the beginning of a school year, the beginning of a financial fiscal year, etc. Cost is always a consideration, and much more so in the current economic climate.

The scope of the data warehouse will vary from school to school and will be based on the priorities of the school with regards to its mission and vision. Coming to a common agreement on the purposes, users, uses, and data requirements is important and putting these in writing is also important for project direction and for future reflection on the system which has been implemented. These requirements should continually be in front of the project team to ensure that they go in the right direction and do not attempt to implement features not in the original project scope.

Determining data readiness entails all of the things to which Bernhardt refers – evaluation of the current network, currently existing data, and the amount of money available for a new system. The network is the underlying foundation of any successful software solution. An organization will not want to lose any current data and implementation of a new system will likely involve mapping / converting current data to a new solution. And, ultimately, financial concerns will constrain the scope of any software solution. One thing to keep in mind regarding software costs is that they can be negotiable. A simple example comes to mind – tax preparation software is much more valuable on April 1st than it is on April 16th, at which time one would be hard pressed to find anyone willing to pay $29 for tax preparation software!

Once the network groundwork has been laid, identifying the personnel available to do the work is important. Notice that all of this groundwork – counting the cost both in terms of dollars spent on software and personnel – is done before even approaching a vendor. An organization that invests due diligence in this part of the software selection process is well on its way to implementation of a successful solution for all constituents involved.

Bernhardt, V.L. (2008). Translating data into information to improve teaching and learning. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education, Inc.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Data Warehouse Planning and Selection Process

Chapter 5 of Bernhardt's book details the steps for planning a data warehouse for an organization. The purpose of this planning is to connect the various types of data – demographic, student learning, school process, and perceptions – in order to provide comprehensive data analysis (Bernhardt, p. 57). Bernhardt details seven steps necessary in the planning: 1) establishing a project team; 2) defining the scope of the data warehouse; 3) determining data readiness; 4) determining the desired data; 5) determining who is going to do the work; 6) determining the levels of access; and, 7) selecting data warehouse vendor (Bernhardt, p. 61-72). I view this process as laying the foundation for the construction of a skyscraper – there are so many unseen things going on underneath the surface which result in the successful construction of a really tall building.

Chapter 6 discusses data discovery and data mapping. At the lowest level, this process includes defining each piece of data needed in the data warehouse, its characteristics, and potential values. For example, birthdate will be entered in the format mm/dd/yyyy. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) refers to the entity (description), attribute (characteristics), and instance (attribute value) of the data (Bernhardt, p. 74). From a larger perspective, data discovery results in determining the reports needed from the system and cleaning up dirty data (Bernhardt, p. 73).

Chapter 7 discusses selection of analytical tools which will be used to make effective use of the data mapped through the data discovery and mapping process. Bernhardt contends that data warehouses and analytical tools must make the data accessible, consistent, and secure (Bernhardt, p. 85). The data warehouse must continuously adapt to meet users' needs. The various capabilities of a system – things such as levels of data access, intuitive use, and easy report generation – as well as vendor considerations – implementation timeframe, vendor support, and forming consortiums with like-minded districts – are also discussed (Bernhardt, p. 86-93).

Chapter 8 discusses whether a data warehouse solution should be built in-house or purchased from a vendor. Bernhardt quickly concludes that purchasing a system from a vendor is the better option, but the implementation of the system will not be successful without the support of in-house staff (Bernhardt, p. 95-96). She gives three different scenarios resulting in various levels of success or failure and emphasizes the need for IT staff and district leadership to work hand-in-hand for a successful solution.

My personal experience is consistent with Bernhardt's thoughts. There were some of my IT staff members who felt as if we could build a system ourselves and save the organization tons of money. With an extremely capable, but small development staff, this was not realistic. As a Project Manager, one of my primary, unwritten tasks was to be a liaison between the users, the management, and software vendors. The biggest asset I brought to the table was not my technical knowledge, but my ability to relate and communicate with people. This relational approach helped to smooth the waters when system implementation became challenging and ultimately resulted in a successful implementation to a new system.

Bernhardt, V.L. (2008). Translating data into information to improve teaching and learning. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education, Inc.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

"Dirty Data" and its Consequences

The Reading School District has a total of 26 schools, including elementary schools, middle schools, gateway schools, vo-tech schools, and high schools. So, trying to understand the various potential sources of data entry for SIS systems is a challenge. The questions posed for this discussion board prompt – eg, “how is data quality compromised? how can we improve data quality?” - is like asking someone to describe an elephant. My view of the world of data entry at Reading School District is largely limited to my view as a math teacher in one of the 26 school buildings in our district. And I do not even know all of the details of data entry done by the various secretarial and administrative personnel within my building. With this caveat, I will attempt to answer the questions posed to the best of my knowledge.

With the number of schools in our system, data quality could most easily be compromised by the multiple points of data entry. When a new student comes into the school district or transfers from one school to another, who “owns” the data entry piece? When does ownership transfer from one party to another? By not having a single data owner or by having more than one party believe they are the data owner are two potential sources of data compromise.

There are many consequences of dirty data and I will give one example that I have seen in my school. Study Island is a web-based program used in our school for improvement and practice in Math, English, and Science based on our state standards. Each student has their own individual login for access to the system. As a teacher, I can create classes and assignments for any of my math classes. The standard for creating a student ID in Study Island is using the student's name in the format first_last@rhs, such as dougsnyder@rhs. However, I have seen student names such as snyderdoug@rhs or dougsnyder (without “@rhs”). This inconsistency makes it difficult for me as a teacher to create a class. Or, if one account is created and later corrected, a student sometimes has “two” Study Island accounts to use. Another are of potential conflict is if we have two students with the same name – I had two students named “Anthony Ramos” this school year. Having the same name can cause data entry confusion.

In order to improve data quality, it is important to make sure, at a district level, that each piece of data is identified and a data owner is assigned to each piece of data. Procedures need to be put in place for transferring ownership of a piece of data from one owner to a new owner. Procedures also need to be put in place to correct data entry errors like the Study Island example that I mentioned above. Having the ability to merge and/or delete existing records is an important component to ensure overall data integrity.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Reading School District PSSA Data Analysis

Reading School District publishes a District Report Card each year (“Reading PSSA Data”). District results are broken down by gender, ethnicity, and other aggregated groups (eg, IEP, English Language Learners, Migrant students). Results are also broken down based on participation and performance.

With respect to NCLB and Pennsylvania state standards, Reading is far behind most of the schools in Pennsylvania. For PSSA Mathematics in the 2009-10 school year, Reading School District is at 73% proficiency (3rd grade), 62% (8th grade), and 24% (11th grade). These numbers are significantly below the state percentages of 84%, 75%, and 59%, respectively. For PSSA Reading in the 2009-10 school year, Reading School District is at 53% (3rd grade), 61% (8th grade), and 42% (11th grade). The state percentages are 75%, 82%, and 66%, respectively (“Reading PSSA Data”). However, in comparison to numbers from the 2008-09 school year, four of these six percentages are an increased percentage of proficiency and the two decreases were by 1% each.

Within various student groups in 11th grade, the Black student group is the group closest to percentages matching the state averages for both Reading and Mathematics.

To some degree, this paints a realistic picture of our school district. While the data is measured by various ethnic groups, I believe it is difficult to measure progress with relation to a baseline number for individual students or student groups. For example, for some migrant students, it is possible that they did not begin any formal education until coming to the USA at 10 years old. This means that they may have missed the basic building blocks of reading and mathematics and are starting their school career behind many of their classmates.

For someone moving into the district or already living in the district, this data shows the reality – Reading School District is below the state averages, but incremental improvements are being made. In some grade levels, average proficiency has increased by as much as 7% in one school year. For administrators and teachers, more specific data is needed than these overall aggregate numbers. For example, it would be helpful for me as a teacher to know if only 15% of 11th grade math students were proficient in solving a quadratic equation using the quadratic formula, for example. For the general public, it is helpful to know the aggregate numbers and see incremental progress from year to year.

In comparison to Daniel Boone School District (my home district) and Muhlenberg School District (the closest neighboring school district), the county results show a significant gap in proficiency in both Reading proficiency (minimum 20% difference) and Mathematics proficiency (16% difference). Certainly, if I was a parent considering moving into Berks County, I would not consider moving my children into Reading School District based on these test scores (“Berks County PSSA Data”). While it is a positive thing to see the incremental improvements from year to year, such a large gap between Reading School District and the other county districts would cause me great concern as a parent.

Reading PSSA Data. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Berks County PSSA Data. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

SIS / CIA Interview Results

Today I interviewed Craig Dilks, the head of Information Services for Reading School District, with the interview questions previously posed. Here are Craig's answers to the questions:

  1. What is/are the name(s) of the SIS / CIA system(s) used in Reading School District?

    A: Reading is using eSchoolPlus for their SIS and PerformancePathways for their CIA. Craig's responsibility is for the SIS, so the rest of our conversation focused on his knowledge of the SIS.

  2. When were the current systems installed?

    A: Current systems were installed in 2005.

  3. Were the systems installed in multiple phases?

    A: There was conversion from a previous AS/400 system to the current SQL system. In terms of phases, most of the system was installed simultaneously, but the Gradebook feature is the last one to be phased into use.

  4. What system was the first priority when the systems were originally installed?

    A: Priority was determined by involving users within certain parts of the organization - clerks, administrators, teachers, etc. Parents' access to their children's information was also important and more than 12,000 letters have been sent out to parents giving them information needed to log into the system and access their children's information.

  5. Which of the following student information tracked in the SIS systems? class attendance, tardies, referrals, schedules, grades.

    A: "Yes" to all the information. Referrals was the last piece added.

  6. Is the system integrated so that a student’s history can be tracked from year to year and school to school?

    A: Yes.

  7. Is there any overlap of data among different systems?

    A: There is some overlap between various systems which require the two systems to talk with one another. One example is a Special Education system which interacts with the eSchoolPlus system for information sharing.

  8. How does Reading School District use data warehousing? How much history is warehoused?

    A: There are different ways to define warehousing, but Reading School District does use data warehousing. The best example of this is Performance Tracker.

  9. Was there a team of people involved in the selection process? How was the team chosen and what different groups were represented in the selection process?

    A: Various levels of staff members were involved in the selection process and were given the opportunity to use the software and participate in vendor demos. A core team of "superusers" was used throughout the process to be the voice of the various end users' of the software.

  10. What kind of security measures are part of the system?

    A: System security is at the user level. Users are only given access to the information they need. For example, teachers have access to all of the students in their own classes, but cannot view all information on all students. Since it is easier to give "more" access than to take away access already granted, Reading's IS Department errs on the side of limiting access to information.

  11. What is the maximum capacity of the system in terms of concurrent users / students?

    A: Capacity is limited to available disk space, so it is virtually unlimited. Currently, there are 18,400 users - ie, parents and staff - who have access to the system. Concurrent users are not explicitly tracked, but is estimated to peak around 500-600 concurrent users.

  12. What types of reporting is available in the SIS / CIA? What kind of reports are currently being used and by whom?

    A: There are a number of canned reports as well as a report writer (Cognos Impromptu) for creating customized reports. Data on the customized reports is only related to the creativity of the user and their knowledge of the tables within the SQL database.

  13. What kinds of reports are currently being used and by whom?

    A: (See answer to 12 above)

  14. What are future plans for system expansion?

    A: No immediate plans for system expansion, based on current budget constraints and today's economy. Future expansion will be based on demands from parents and other district needs.

  15. If you were choosing a new system today, would you choose the same system we are currently using? Why or why not?

    A: Yes. There are advantages / disadvantages to every system. The system implemented by Reading School District meets our current needs and has other features which we have not yet implemented. This system is being used successfully by other school districts in Berks County and beyond.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Obtaining and Ensuring Good, Quality Data

Chapters 3 and 4 of Bernhardt’s book focus on the data being collected and the quality of the data being collected in the systems introduced in Chapter 2.

In chapter 3, Bernhardt talks about the specific types of data and focuses on demographic data, as well as the processes which occur within the school, and the perceptions of students, parents, staff, and others with regards to the learning environment. She then goes into a discussion of Input / Process / Output (IPO) and notes that there is a finite number of each of these elements within a learning organization (Bernhardt, 2008; p. 33). In order to understand the relationships between each of these three elements, data from all three groups must be gathered and analyzed. Bernhardt then launches into a discussion of the different types of analyses which can be done: Classroom Analyses, School Analyses, School District Analyses, and State / Federal Analyses.

Chapter 4 focuses on improving the quality of the data being entered into the systems. Bill Gates' quote in the beginning of this chapter sums up the use of data systems succinctly: The first rule of any technology used in business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency” (Bernhardt, 2008; p. 43). So while often times the focus is on automation, the more important focus is on internal organizational processes to collect and enter data into a system. Bernhardt then focuses on the common ways in which data quality can be compromised – often we think of data being compromised by input errors, but data can also be compromised by flawed processes. Bernhardt suggests that ensuring data quality can be done in a number of ways – by setting clear data definitions, but implementing proper procedures for data entry, and by assigning a data manager who “owns” the data and has responsibility to ensure that the data is “clean” (Bernardt, 2008; p. 46).

There is a tried and true phrase used in computer circles - “Garbage in / Garbage Out”. Effectively, this is what Bernhardt speaks about in Chapter 4 rang especially true for me as a project manager. The most difficult part of new system implementation was meeting with users and understanding the processes in place and trying to determine if any of the processes could be automated and/or improved. Breaking the system down into smaller pieces and assigning a “data czar” in each area was an important part of the process. Internal procedures are part of the process and automated systems can help by enforcing the defined rules. For example, if it is important to enter “M” or “F” for male or female, an automated system can either check input or provide a drop down box of options to enforce consistent data entry. There are many more examples similar to this one. Bernhardt's last piece of advice in this chapter is appropriate: “The data tools you use and data analyses you generate can only be as good as the data in them.” (Bernhardt, 2008; p. 55)

Bernhardt, V.L. (2008). Translating data into information to improve teaching and learning. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education, Inc.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

SIS / CIA Management Tools

PerformancePathways is an assessment and curriculum management system which is part of the PLUS 360 suite of software products offered by Sungard Systems. The student information system part of this suite is eSchoolPLUS, which is the SIS system used by the Reading School District. PerformancePathways is a suite of products which includes PerformanceTRACKER (for tracking student performance), AssessmentBUILDER (for building and scoring local benchmarks), and CurriculumCONNECTOR (for comprehensive, standards-based curriculum development and review). This is a web-based solution and provides support for Common Core Standards ("Performanceplus" )

PowerSchool is a web-based student information system which provides a number of different modules based on the needs of the individual school district. Some sample modules include Immunization and Health Screenings, Classroom Management, Scheduling, and Student / Parent modules ("Powerschool" ). There are a number of different individual modules and online demos to help the potential user understand the features of each software module.

My Learning Plan bills itself as “the leading PDMES (Professional Development Management and Evaluation System)” (“My Learning Plan”). This system is also web based and seems to be designed at more of a district level in order to manage professional development programs at the district, regional, and state levels. It seems to be more focused on professional growth than on student information systems that PerformancePathways and PowerSchool offer.

I find it interesting that there are probably a handful of companies who offer similar types of systems for school districts' use. I found the same thing when attempting to select a donor management system for the non-profit for which I worked. There were a minimal number of options with strong opinions about each one and what they could do. What I found was that there were multiple solutions that would work for our organization. There were not many features that made one solution better or worse than another. Of course, pricing became a factor, as it will for most any school district. And, the real key to having a successful implementation of software had more to do with the internal staff understanding their own organization's needs and working hand in hand with the software vendor to implement the solution.

Performanceplus. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Powerschool. (n.d.). Retrieved from

My Learning Plan. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Interview Questions for SIS / CIA Management Tools

One of the upcoming assignments in this class is to conduct a 15 question interview with the person(s) who runs / maintains the Student Information System (SIS) and Curriculum / Instruction / Assessment (CIA) system(s) used in the Reading School District. Following are the proposed interview questions:

  1. What is/are the name(s) of the SIS / CIA system(s) used in Reading School District?

  2. When were the current systems installed?

  3. Were the systems installed in multiple phases?

  4. What system was the first priority when the systems were originally installed?

  5. Which of the following student information tracked in the SIS systems? class attendance, tardies, referrals, schedules, grades.

  6. Is the system integrated so that a student’s history can be tracked from year to year and school to school?

  7. Is there any overlap of data among different systems?

  8. How does Reading School District use data warehousing? How much history is warehoused?

  9. Was there a team of people involved in the selection process? How was the team chosen and what different groups were represented in the selection process?

  10. What kind of security measures are part of the system?

  11. What is the maximum capacity of the system in terms of concurrent users / students?

  12. What types of reporting is available in the SIS / CIA?

  13. What kinds of reports are currently being used and by whom?

  14. What are future plans for system expansion?

  15. If you were choosing a new system today, would you choose the same system we are currently using? Why or why not?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Choosing Data Tools to Improve Teaching and Learning

Chapter two of Victoria Bernhardt's book “Translating data into Information to Improve Teaching and Learning” focuses on data tools need improve teaching and learning. (Yes, I know, it sounds redundant!)

Bernhardt makes the pretty intuitive case that there is a need for electronic tools for data collection and analysis so that teachers can improve student learning. She then goes on to say that the key is knowing which tools you need, which functions you want, and which tools you need first (Barnhardt, 2008; p. 7). She then emphasizes that the necessary hardware and network infrastructure needs to be in place before implementation of any system.

Student Information Systems (SIS) are “transactional or operational databases that house mainly demographic and student achievement data” (Bernhardt, 2008; p. 10). Barnhardt considers this to be the most essential part of the infrastructure. Curriculum/Instruction/Assessment Management Tools “allow users to align K-12 curriculum to standards, provide instruction and curriculum resources and assessments, and measure student performance against standards” (Bernhardt, 2008; p. 13). Data warehouses are “analytical databases that store many years of data and enable school districts to analyze data across different systems” (Bernhardt, 2008; p. 15)

After discussing the details of each of these systems, Barnhardt provides “Tips on Enlightened Purchasing”. Important points to consider are involving a broad membership in the selection process, determining purchase priorities, researching vendors, and buying non-proprietary systems.

As a project manager in my pre-teaching career, the information in this chapter makes a lot of sense to me. I was the project manager for the purchase and implementation of a new financial system for a non-profit organization. I coordinated the process of meeting with users to understand and write the system requirements, choosing potential vendors, hosting vendors on-site, doing follow up with staff and vendors, and ultimately implementing the system in our organization. So I have experienced many of the things laid out in this chapter.

What I learned is that there is no “one size fits all” and there is no one-stop shop or perfect system for any organization. Weighing out the priorities of all end users - teachers, administrators, etc. - as well as the cost to the organization, the implementation timeframe, and other internal factors makes the process of implementation challenging and emotional. Barnhardt's points to “talk with current users” and “buy only tools that manage and share data using non-proprietary architecture” (Bernhardt, 2008; p. 15) are well founded.

It seems that Barnhardt also makes the assumption that the purchase of these systems will be made from “ground zero”, in the absence of already existing systems. In today's world, this is not completely realistic because there will always be the need to either integrate with an existing system or to migrate data from an existing system.

Bernhardt, V.L. (2008). Translating data into information to improve teaching and learning. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education, Inc.

Friday, May 27, 2011

State, District, and School Assessments

The most prominent state level assessment in Pennsylvania is the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments, or PSSA's. (“Pennsylvania System of School Assessments”). Students in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11 are assessed in reading skills and mathematics. Students in grades 5, 8, and 11 are assessed in writing skills. Students in grades 4, 8, and 11 are assessed in natural science(“Pennsylvania System of School Assessments”).

Reading School District collects assessment data in a number of ways. The district publishes an annual district report card (“Reading School District”) which shows overall achievement of students within the district. Included in this report is attendance and graduation rates, PSSA, PSSA-M, and PASA results, Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), Teacher Qualifications, and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data.

Reading Senior High School, the school in which I teach, administers a number of different assessments including PSSA's, Keystones, 4Sights, ASVAB's, Advanced Placement tests, PSAT's, and SAT's.

For the Advanced Placement testing, Reading offers a dual enrollment program with Reading Area Community College (RACC). This program allows students to earn college credits at RACC based on completion of an AP class in our school. Students are not required to achieve a certain score on the AP test in order to qualify for the dual enrollment. Besides the dual enrollment benefit, the students also benefit because the school district pays for their AP test fees and they have an opportunity to earn college credits at colleges other than RACC. This year, Reading administered six different AP tests to a total of 220 students, including 69 students who took the AP History test.

Our school has an extremely high level of focus on preparation for the PSSA testing which starts with a 100-Day plan used 100 school days prior to the beginning of testing. The impact of this plan in my math classes is that I spend at least one day per week for over three months with a PSSA focus. All math classes are required to work through this 100-Day plan in all of their classes, not just classes with 11th grade students. The focus on PSSA preparation has a significant impact on the amount of curriculum material we are able to cover in the classroom.

Probably like many teachers, I have a “love/hate” relationship with standardized testing. I certainly understand the need for our school to be aligned with state and national standards regarding the progress of our students. But the volume of classroom time spent in test preparation and the disruption of the school schedule during the month of testing can become frustrating to what I would view as “progress” in navigating my planned curriculum. It is also difficult for our non-PSSA students to understand why they are doing PSSA preparation on a topic which is disjoint from the normal curriculum. For example, my 9th grade Algebra I students have a difficult time understanding how to solve quadratic equations, a topic which is not covered until we are well into the Algebra II curriculum. I believe the Keystone tests will be a step in the right direction, as they will be targeted to specific subject areas – Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry in Mathematics – rather than a general PSSA Mathematics test, as administered today.

Reading school district report card. (2010). Retrieved from

Pennsylvania system of school assessments. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Data-Driven Decision Making - Not Just a Buzz Word

Rob Kadel's article “Data-Drive Decision Making – Not Just a Buzz Word” discusses learning management systems and the characteristics required to make them a useful part of a dynamic classroom environment. First, Kadel defines a learning management system as “a type of software or webware that manages content and student data.” The essential question Kadel asks when considering the potential of a learning management system is “Who is my audience?” He indicates that the audience for such a system includes teachers, superintendents, and administrators. Interestingly, the students are the ultimate audience which will benefit from a system, though they are not mentioned as one of the audiences in Kadel's article. Kadel then discusses three functions to consider whether a system is flexible enough to meet the informational needs of all audiences.

  1. Real-time reporting – Data being used to drive instructional decisions cannot be a year, a semester, or even a month old. Kadel gives two hypothetical examples of two different 9-year-old students – one who requires help in math multiplication tables and another who struggles with reading comprehension. The instructor can click on the average class scores to drill down on individual scores and ultimately get an item analysis to determine the areas in which the entire class is struggling. A school administrator can use such data to determine where the entire school is struggling or to determine which teachers might need some additional help with their classes.

  1. Differentiation – Kadel indicates that “lack of time is perhaps the main reason that true differentiation of instruction has yet to be widely applied.” Ideally, to ease this time burden, a learning management system will have rules or algorithms to send an email to alert the instructor when either of these students needs remediation or perhaps a new style of exercises for learning.

  1. Grouping for learning styles – Because students have different learning styles, a high quality learning management system allows for grouping students in particular ways based on their learning styles.

Finally, Kadel summarizes the the key points needed in a systems that provides data-driven decision making:

  • Analyzing the data collected

  • Displaying results

  • Identifying meaningful patterns

  • Alerting educators to learner challenges

  • Providing curricula

  • Suggesting exercises to meet student needs

The learning management system that we use at Reading School District is Study Island. This year, we used Study Island in preparation for PSSA testing. Specifically, students were to complete one mathematics Study Island unit each week from mid-October to February. The data for the entire 11th grade class was then analyzed to determine the areas needing more targeted focus in the weeks directly prior to the PSSA tests. This strategy proved successful in the past for the PSSA Reading scores. We are still awaiting the Mathematics results this year to determine if our strategy proved similar results in PSSA Math.

Kadel, R. (2010, May). "data-driven decision making - not just a buzz word". Learning & Leading with Technology, 37, 18-21.