Opening the Data Door
“Give the people what they want!” That could be the slogan for the Digital Door Project at Denver Public Schools (DPS).
When the district decided to gather the data from shelves, binders, books, and warehouses and turn them into something useful, the first step was financing. The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and a general bond provided the necessary funding.
“Once funding was in place, we started working with focus groups to outline their data needs and connect it to the curriculum,” says Connie Casson, deputy strategy officer.
Building a Strong Foundation It took an entire year to create the Administrator Portal, and much of that time was spent discussing what the portal should include. The portal was finally launched in January 2009.
The Web-based platform lets district leaders access all student and managerial data, forms and reports, regularly updated to be timely. In September, for example, the portal focuses on enrollment and attendance.
“Principals deal with everything from budgets to instruction, so we gave them the tools to help do their jobs,” says Jason Martinez, director of strategy. “They can use the portal to see when a broken door will be fixed, what’s going on with the buses, or if their budget is on track.”
Elizabeth Balderas, assistant principal at West High School, uses the Administrator Portal several times a week. “Teachers told us that students were consistently tardy to first period,” she says. “We looked at the data and found out students were not only tardy to first period, but also fifth period. We started doing targeted hall sweeps before these periods, and now we are seeing real changes in the data.”
Another Door Opens
The Teacher Portal, which debuted this January, connects DPS teachers and instructional staff to applications, student data and reports. It also houses every piece of hard-copy curriculum the district owns. “There are more than 25,000 files of curricular material,” says Martinez. “What the iPod did for music is what we did for curriculum.” Teachers can use the portal to access the curriculum, intervention materials and assessments that address specific areas where achievement is lacking.
“The portal presents the data and tells the story of the school and the students in a logical, easy-to-read format,” says Martinez. “We want teachers to teach.”
Training Is a Priority
A lot of effort went into making the interface clean and simple. “If you can use a Web site, you should be able to use the portal,” says Megan Marquez, project coordinator. “If you want to be an advanced user, we offer plenty of classes.”
Principals spent a week in training and can take courses to become advanced users. Martinez created a timeline showing which features are useful throughout the year as a way to help administrators accomplish their tasks in a more timely fashion.
Training for the Teacher Portal is more collaborative. The team trained 70 instructional and curriculum specialists and developed support material. Each school has two instructional specialists and a Teacher Portal expert on hand to answer questions. “We want them to integrate it into their existing processes,” says Martinez.
Make Your Own Portal
For districts looking to implement their own version of the Digital Door Project, Spencer suggests assembling a diverse team of advisors. A solid network and data warehouse are also crucial. Last but not least, learn how to design a Web page. “Don’t put the buttons they need in the spot their eyes don’t go to,” he says.
Ellen Ullman is a freelance writer based in Fairfield, Conn.