Students here, students there; students, students, everywhere. For most school districts, tracking students that move from one district to another can be a daunting, endless task for front-office officials who end up augmenting a paper file that follows them to and fro with all kinds of chances for mishaps. More aggravating than a roving student is the task of keeping the data they accumulate throughout their education in one, reachable place. There's achievement data, demographic data, program data--even data on school lunch programs--for every student in any district. How best to keep track of it?
With no universal data system, too much time was being spent by Wyoming teachers and administrators tracking down information. There had to be a better way than keeping track of grades in binders.
Wyoming decided to WISE-up--that is, create the Wyoming Integrated Statewide Education Data System, a data information system that helps facilitate Wyoming's Schools Interoperability Framework, a national set of standards developed for educational software interoperability. In English, "SIF is a standard form for exchanging data," says Steve King, data management lead for Wyoming's Department of Education. "WISE is about trying to build a state data system that will serve the data needs of all schools and the district using SIF."
Built by ESP Solutions Group, and information contractor that helps schools and organizations "organize," WISE is considered the most sophisticated student statewide data information system in the country. Schools at the local district level will now only have to enter data once and it will flow to the applications or departments that need it throughout the entire district: human resources will link to school lunch, to special ed, to transportation, to finance, to library, all through one Zone Integration Server.
"One of the nice things about SIF, because we're keeping existing programs, [teachers can] continue to use the applications" with which they're already familiar, says King. And with SIF and WISE, specific software programs aren't be mandated for districts and schools, keeping everyone's job just a little easier and their comfort level with the technology they already know that much higher.
Most importantly, WISE is allowing for nearly instant access to which teachers are teaching which classes, the students taking them, and the grades they're getting. Teachers can better self-evaluate their curricula to see whether their students are "getting it" or not when test scores are neatly aggregated before them. It's not that the information is new news: WISE is now helping Wyoming see the data that's always been there, and really allow it to be used.
"When you have an electronic system like WISE around, a lot of analysis we couldn't do before" can be done now, says King.
Wyoming is in its first year of a 5-year program to implement WISE. States like Colorado, Montana and Alaska have approached King at national meetings about implementing in their own districts. "We're not alone, but we're definitely out in front."
Why Wyoming is Different
For most districts in the country, the typical approach to student data collection may be to have many different database programs or software systems working at the same time. Systems like PowerSchool, SASI XP, or Chancery, not to mention library systems, school lunch systems, and technology designed to assign and keep track of student assessment scores and demographic information as simple as their address can be found across the country. Additionally, most state reports for student testing are aggregate, and when information was here, there and everywhere it was difficult to keep track of it--especially when it was time to collect data for Wyoming DOE's mandated reports.