School districts gather an overwhelming amount of information from testing, attendance and disciplinary actions each day. But often they find — as the Ozark School District did — that they are data-rich and information-poor.
"We had a great deal of information but it wasn't in a format that was readily retrievable or easily accessible," noted Dr. Chanda Clayman, assistant director of special services and a former district principal. "We were not getting the picture of the whole child."
The solution Ozark chose was Tyler District Pulse, an information warehouse that pulls data from all of a districts' diverse systems and processes it into immediately available management information delivered via browsers, portals, spreadsheets and other standard desktop tools.
The district, situated in Missouri between Springfield and Branson, has 5,300 students and 420 teachers. It had a student information system and a collection of other peripheral systems for specific applications. But, said Clayman, "We didn't have a central repository."
Clayman was the lead on training staff as part of the implementation, which began in the summer of 2009. She worked with administrators, process coordinators, guidance counselors and teachers. Each person she trained, Clayman said, was highly impressed with District Pulse.
"It was exciting for them to be able to look at attendance, grades, discipline and assessments the first thing every day," she recalled. Although the district has only been working with District Pulse since last summer, already the staff feels that it is invaluable, according to Clayman.
Monitoring dropout rates, discipline patterns and other trends is easier and situations can be identified more readily. Also, reporting problems can be caught and corrected quickly. For example, Clayman noted that District Pulse enabled district administrators to discover that some students who were transferring out of the district were incorrectly being identified as having dropped out of school. Because of the accessibility and timeliness of the reporting, the district was able to catch and correct that error before an erroneous report was sent to the state.
But it is in day-to-day teaching that District Pulse is proving especially valuable. "We are encouraging our faculty to access the information and enhance and enrich the local assessment data," said Clayman. Already that process is yielding dividends.
Second-grade teacher Rebecca Fears had been trying to explain to a student's parents the challenges their child was experiencing in class. But the parents were resistant. "Sometimes it is easier to think that everyone is having the same problems," Fears said.
Once she started working with District Pulse, Fears said she and the school administrative assistant put their heads together to produce a report that showed how the student's performance compared with class averages. Then she called the parents in for another conference. She shared the District Pulse data that showed them not only the reality of the situation but also specific problem areas.
Fears sees the available data as a tool that teachers in Ozark will use more frequently with parents. "It's a new experience for the teachers, but I love it," she said. "We're finding a lot of things we can do with it."
Says Clayman: "It revolutionizes the way we look at data and puts it in the hands of every decision maker, every day."