School data: 4 ways to maximize the big picture

Bridging the gap between data and decision-making empowers educators to leverage the full potential of data-informed communication for the benefit of K-12 students
Joy Smithson
Joy Smithson
Joy Smithson is a data scientist at SchoolStatus, where she works with districts all over the country to help educators use data to inform decisions and support student success. SchoolStatus' suite of data and communication solutions are designed to enhance educator effectiveness, automate workflows, support professional development and improve student outcomes by facilitating meaningful engagement between teachers, districts and families.

In the face of ongoing challenges posed by pandemic learning disruptions, K12 schools are recognizing the increasing importance of data in their efforts to drive positive change. District leaders are grappling with such issues as opportunity gaps, chronic absenteeism, educator burnout and funding constraints. The encouraging news is that state and district leaders, educators, and families now have access to an array of powerful tools that can support them on this journey, and one such tool is integrated data.

Data, particularly integrated data, helps educational leaders gain valuable insights and make informed decisions to enhance student outcomes, optimize resource allocation and communicate effectively with stakeholders. As a data scientist, I have had the privilege of collaborating with districts, schools and administrators across the nation to help them extract actionable insights from their data to help improve communication and facilitate better student outcomes.

Together, we work towards bridging the gap between data and decision-making, empowering educators to leverage the full potential of data-informed communication for the benefit of K-12 students. Here are four ways that schools and districts can effectively use data to support student success:

1. School data shows the big picture

Access to quality and comprehensive data allows educators and administrators to monitor and assess the academic performance of students within their school district. It provides insights into individual and group achievement, identifying areas of strength and areas that need improvement. By analyzing this data, superintendents can make informed decisions to enhance teaching strategies, curriculum development, and resource allocation.

Student and school data are often scattered across different platforms or manual spreadsheets. From grades and attendance to state assessments, benchmarks, and discipline logs, crucial insights and areas requiring attention can easily go unnoticed when data resides in separate silos. Implementing school analytics and communications platforms that integrate with existing district systems and data sources, and consolidate data into one cohesive view can provide a more comprehensive look at real-time data trends at the district, school, and student level.

For instance, when exam and attendance data are displayed together on a single platform, administrators can identify students who have been chronically absent while simultaneously assessing the impact of these absences on academic outcomes. At-risk profiles can be refined, incorporating multiple criteria, and the relationships between variables can be explored and uncovered. Early identification allows for timely intervention and targeted support services to help these students succeed.

I recently collaborated with a district to customize its at-risk feature, which is intended to help educators identify students at risk of dropping out or not graduating on time. The district leadership team had previously met, identified their primary areas of concern, and established criteria for which variables to include in the risk profile as well as associated thresholds for earning higher points on the risk scale. Wrap-around support and social wellbeing were a core part of this district’s 4-year strategic plan, so they had already contracted with a vendor to collect information on students’ social-emotional learning. We were able to incorporate this data into the risk feature in addition to academic-focused data we already integrated for the district. The final result was a more robust at-risk feature that the leadership team felt better addressed the unique needs of scholars in their district.

2. Strengthening communication with families

Leveraging student data to enhance communication with families is a potent strategy for educators seeking to cultivate stronger relationships and improve student outcomes. Data provides a launching point for meaningful conversations, such as acknowledging a student’s tenacity in tackling a challenging assignment or recognizing their perfect attendance record over a month. Conversations, too, can provide nuanced and quality information about students’ home life and personal successes or struggles that contextualize other points of data.

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Additionally, engagement data can shed light on communication gaps between educators and families. For instance, school-home communication is typically more frequent in primary and elementary school but tends to taper off as students progress to middle and high school. Through careful analysis of school-home interactions, administrators can analyze responsiveness between families and educators throughout the year, assess the effectiveness of communication channels, address communication barriers, and evaluate the frequency and methods of engagement. Understanding these trends enables administrators to tailor communication strategies and professional development opportunities, fostering more meaningful conversations between schools and families.

3. Allocating resources equitably and effectively

School administrators rely on student data to allocate resources effectively. Having access to detailed, consolidated data can help them identify schools or classrooms with specific needs, such as additional teaching staff, materials, or technology. This information helps them direct resources equitably to ensure all students have an equal opportunity to succeed.

For instance, the district I referenced earlier reviewed their students’ social-emotional data and discovered the majority of students self-reported having few strengths. Made aware of this perception among their students, administrators can ensure their programming addresses social-emotional strengths. Analyzing this data in tandem with student achievement data can help administrators identify opportunity gaps among students. By identifying and tracking areas of need, administrators can direct their instructional support or targeted interventions to the students and schools that need them the most, thereby helping to bridge gaps.

Additionally, data can help administrators assess the effectiveness of existing resource allocations. By examining data on student outcomes, such as participation and attendance rates, administrators can determine the effectiveness of each intervention’s impact on student success. This information can be used to improve less effective programs and capitalize on efforts that yield better results. Ongoing data analysis enables administrators to ensure their efforts maximize student learning and close gaps in opportunities for struggling students.

4. Promoting data literacy and transparency

Educators’ communication styles with families can establish a firm foundation for building trust and connection. Many families may feel overwhelmed by complex educational jargon or struggle to interpret student data. To foster trust and encourage productive collaboration, district administrators should strive to share data with families in a clear and accessible manner, focusing on the implications of the data for their child’s education. When reviewing a student’s records with a family member, it is crucial to discuss any key terms or metrics and provide guidance on using this information to support their child’s learning. Framing a student’s performance in terms of grade-level expectations, for example, can help families better understand how their child is doing relative to their peers.

Transparent, two-way communication regarding data collection practices and privacy policies is equally vital in addressing concerns and establishing a positive partnership, and building trust. Ensuring two-way channels are available is especially important for increasing inclusivity and reducing barriers to communication. Moreover, communicating student data in the native language of the family is crucial. Communication platforms equipped with built-in translation capabilities ensure that important messages reach home in a language every family member can easily read, enabling meaningful and clear exchanges that build trust.

By adopting data-driven communication strategies, district administrators can effectively address the needs of schools, classrooms, and individual students, share progress updates, and empower families as active stakeholders in their child’s educational journey. The careful integration of data into educational processes holds tremendous potential for improving student outcomes and creating a collaborative and supportive environment for all stakeholders.

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