Districts are well into their first full year of ESSA accountability, with the focus now on enhanced assessment capabilities and continuous improvement. While the additional reporting mandated by ESSA may still seem challenging, there are untapped opportunities within the associated data gathering and reporting process for districts to significantly advance their strategic decision-making capabilities.

Through the process of ESSA reporting, school districts across the country have discovered the power of analytics. However, few have probed the untapped value these tools can provide in terms of more deeply understanding the needs of specific students and crafting interventions that move the needle on student performance.

No Shortage of Data, But No Connections

It’s not a lack of data that’s the problem—school districts are inundated with data. The challenge is the process of manually sorting through silos of data to retrieve relevant information, and then determining how to combine it in a meaningful way. It’s a time-consuming, costly process for districts of all sizes, and it’s rare to have resources that can be devoted solely to this.

Academic  Program  Student  School 
Semester grades  Extracurricular activities  Attendance  Schools attended 
Course load  Work experience  Class  Teachers by class 
AP enrollment    GPA  Support staff 
Industry credentials    Gender   
Dual credit courses    Ethnicity   
SAT scores    Free & reduced   
ACT scores    LEP   

Important student information is often stored in disparate systems managed by multiple departments or functions. School districts must be able to easily consolidate and analyze data from all of these sources in order to submit ESSA reports. However, there is much more that can be done with this data to improve student readiness.

The Fast-Track to Insight – a Consolidated Analytics Environment

Instead of manually extracting data from multiple sources and then populating complex spreadsheets, district administrators can dramatically reduce their time and effort by using an analytics platform that pulls disparate student data sources into a single environment.

Not only does this significantly reduce the time needed to produce ESSA reports, but it gives administrators access to an entirely new category of insights.

Bringing Insights to Life

In addition to streamlining the reporting needed to meet ESSA requirements, a consolidated analytics platform can easily support strategic decision-making about individual students, groups of students, building initiatives, district-wide issues, and much more.

An effective analytics platform can correlate and present data visually using easy-to-understand, customizable dashboard views that make insights apparent. The platform should be flexible enough to provide quick analyses at various levels of detail, depending on what the reviewer needs to study. For example, you should be able to quickly drill down from district-level indicators to building-level indicators to student category indicators, all the way down to an individual student level.

The power of this type of analytics platform is its ability to provide administrators with the ability to move beyond looking simply at the district level, to being able to assess and make decisions regarding student readiness at the category and individual level. It’s at these levels that meaningful actions can be taken to directly impact student performance.

Analytics in Action

A large school district in Illinois recently deployed an analytics platform to more easily collect and analyze data stored in multiple databases. As administrators delved into the capabilities presented by the new solution, they quickly discovered that using their established segmentation model, the platform greatly simplified their student performance assessment process.

The segmentation model places students into career and college tracks based on specific metrics, with the goal of ensuring that students stay on the right path—or move to a higher path—and are ready for the next step when they graduate.

After defining which metrics needed to be reviewed on a regular basis, a baseline model was developed. Additional data from multiple levels was added as needed to build a more comprehensive picture of how a student is performing against the segmentation goals. Administrators and counselors were able to easily add data regarding attendance, extracurricular activities, classes taken, and other indicators to better understand successes, identify factors for improvement, and more quickly apply academic interventions.

This school district reports that the analytics platform enables their team to get real-time, accurate updates on key student indicators. Previously, they spent 90% of their time configuring school improvement data and 10% of their time analyzing it. Now the figures have flipped; it takes them 10% of their time to configure the data, leaving 90% of their time to analyze results and develop interventions to support student success.

Going Beyond ESSA

As school districts discover the impact of ESSA reporting requirements, they now have a great opportunity to do more with the new capabilities they’re using to collect, analyze, and review outputs. With the right tools, they’ll not only save time, but also gain insights into ways to dramatically improve student performance.

This article is brought to you by Forecast5 Analytics (https://www.forecast5analytics.com/).

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Full of challenge and change, 2020 was like no other year. NSBA's State of the Association provides a snapshot of the association's advocacy and member services work as well as our ongoing transformation.