Taming the Data Beast
The No Child Left Behind act has forced school districts to collect a mind-boggling amount and variety of data, which is overwhelming administrators already compiling other internal statistics for management purposes. The McKinney (Texas) Independent Schools, located 30 miles north of Dallas, decided to take stock of its disparate repositories of data: teachers' desktops, school office computers, and the central student information system. To obtain a comprehensive view of a student's performance, staffers had to create a spreadsheet by manually inputting information from paper printouts taken from the different networks and computers.
"It was taking too many man-hours to compile and then input all of that information," recalls Joe Miniscalco, McKinney's senior director of secondary education and administrative services. "Principals and teachers were wasting their time on these spreadsheets, and there were too many hands on the data, inputting numbers here and there. We needed our data to be in one place."
The solution was a data warehouse designed by New York-based eScholar. This data management system stores all of the school district's data in one place so administrators can easily and efficiently organize it. eScholar and district officials put the data warehouse in place in record time-30 days after the school board gave its approval-joining the growing number of districts adopting such systems in the past decade.
A Smooth Transition
To help manage the system, the district hired a database administrator to make sure all of the student assessment information and other data was entered and maintained correctly. District officials established rules for using the data and created a "data dictionary" for all district staff .
Miniscalco believes the data warehouse has contributed to academic achievement. McKinney ISD has used data analysis to drive changes to instruction, improve teacher performance, and create more personalized instruction for students. Carol Winters, the department chair and team leader for language arts at Scott Johnson Middle School, says teachers now know how to analyze and interpret data down to individual students and their skills. "That's the real benefit of the data warehouse," says Walters. "It's being able to access the information and then to use it to improve students' weak areas."
Now the district is taking its use of data to the next level, having signed up with SchoolNet in February to establish a Web-based warehouse for curricula, lesson plans and other information for teachers. SchoolNet will partner with eScholar to be sure both systems work together. When the school year begins in August, teachers will be able to access materials and academic content from home as well as from school.
The district is also working on providing parents and students with online access to grades and updated district information. The data warehouse is at the root of all of these changes. "It's really paramount to our success," Miniscalco says. "In order to get a deep look at how we're performing, we need that data warehouse. It's how we do business now."
Lucille Renwick is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.