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 http://www.readingsd.net/www/readingsd/site/hosting/districtnews/RSD%2009%2010%20Report%20Card.pdf

Pennsylvania system of school assessments. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/pennsylvania_system_of_school_assessment_%28pssa%29/8757

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.