Navigating the overcrowded information highway: How to streamline school data

Managing data from multiple sources makes it difficult to connect the dots and easy to miss key information when attempting to get a comprehensive, whole-child view of a student.
Stace Puerta
Stace Puerta
Stace Puerta is the assistant superintendent of teaching and learning at Loveland City Schools in Ohio.

“Streamline” is the buzzword of the moment, especially in the world of edtech. While technology has revolutionized the way schools gather and analyze student data to improve instructional effectiveness, the average number of tech products school districts access in a given month has almost tripled over the last several years, from 548 during the 2017-18 school year, to 1,417 during the 2021-22 school year.

This number is dizzying not only to teachers and administrators but students and families as well, making technological progress feel counterproductive. Managing data from multiple sources makes it difficult to connect the dots and easy to miss key information when attempting to get a comprehensive, whole-child view of a student. Creating a “one stop shop” for data means teachers can spend less time tracking down informational points, and more time focusing on what matters most—their students.

Here are three reasons school districts should streamline their data sources:

1. Supporting the whole child

When data is siloed, it can be easy for important information to fall through the cracks. Individual Education Plans and 504s can be mismanaged, gifted and at-risk students might fly under the radar, and student wellness or other issues that could be impacting a student’s academics might be overlooked.

There are many aspects influencing student success, and it’s important to have the tools to understand how one informs the other. For instance, a tool that asks students to log how they’re feeling could detect a trend influencing how they are performing in school and send an alert to educators that the student may need a wellness check-in or prompt counselors to offer additional support when it’s needed.

Funneling real-time data into one easy-to-read dashboard enables teachers to keep students on track, ensure they are receiving the individual support they need and troubleshoot issues before they become bigger problems. Pulling the right data into the right fields at the right times helps alleviate discrepancies, allowing educators to make immediate course corrections and learn about factors contributing to a student’s academic improvement or decline.

2. Eliminating cost redundancies

Throughout the pandemic, we saw a dramatic spike in the use of digital tools as districts scrambled to deliver education remotely. Estimates vary widely on exactly how much money school districts spend on technology annually but even the most conservative estimates stretch well into the billions.

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With inflation cutting deep into school budgets and spending under close scrutiny, administrators are continually searching for cost-saving measures. Reducing the number of digital tools creates a significant cost reduction not only for the software programs themselves but also in costs associated with the time and staffing needed to access and analyze information from multiple sources. Streamlining data and processes can be cost-effective by removing unnecessary administrative tasks, ultimately increasing efficiency and productivity.

3. Involving All stakeholders

Students are more likely to have improved academic outcomes if families are involved in their education. Information coming to parents in a variety of forms can be overwhelming, and sending an avalanche of information from different sources may discourage parent engagement. Centralizing data into one easy-to-access software tool makes it easier for parents to communicate with teachers and counselors, see their student’s grades and and attendance, and access their schedules.

Consistency of messaging puts families at ease and encourages them to become more engaged, understand how their student is performing and be aware of how they can support their future success.

Where to start

Taking the first step in centralizing data and paring down the software used by an entire district can seem overwhelming. Change can be difficult to navigate and teachers may prefer a program or software simply because they are more familiar with it.

Robust, one-stop-shop data management providers typically don’t require you to go “all in” at the start, so start small, slow, and begin by addressing the issues that are of the greatest need to your district.

For instance, you may want to focus on at-risk behavior, or logging professional development hours. Start by rolling out these services, and once users become more comfortable with this functionality, other features can be seamlessly folded in.

Having real-time data and the analysis to draw insights from it is critical to understanding student progress. By optimizing how teachers, administrators, families and students receive data, districts can find cost savings and involve all stakeholders to better support the whole child. Streamlining data offers a greater chance for students’ needs to be met quickly, keeping them on the path to academic and personal success.

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