A 360-Degree View of Data is Key to Supporting Learners: (Here is Why)

It takes a village to support the whole child, and to set that child up for success in life. That village includes school administration and staff, community partners and families. But most villages cannot support the whole child today. Why? Because each stakeholder only has a small window into the big picture.

Schools see test scores. Community partners see program attendance. Families see announcements, and each stakeholder sees siloed learning tools. They do not share information. They do not communicate. The learning community is closed off. Only 5-10% of that data passes back to the administrator dashboard, where only a few people can access it. This results in learning communities becoming adult centric, not at all student-centered.

You need an all-in-one platform that opens doors between learning tools, data, and stakeholders. Then schools will see more than test scores. Community partners will see more than program attendance. Families will see more than announcements. All stakeholders can see a balanced picture of the whole child. And 100% of the collected data makes it to the dashboard. Finally, everyone in the learning community can see the complete picture. It takes more than a village to see the whole child — it takes a connected village. When your village is connected, you can see the whole child, and you can open doors to their future, whether that future includes enrollment, employment, enlistment, or entrepreneurship.

To have a connected village, you need a comprehensive view of actionable data for teachers, administrators, counselors, parents, family members, and other stakeholders; you need to sync and store information from Student Information Systems, state assessments, diagnostic tools, and other sources of student information, and bring it together for student success. This enables real interoperability of data, which places the student in the center of everything.

Understanding the whole child is so much more than academics. There is so much data that could be joined together to understand the relationship between academic and personal growth, but it is all trapped in various silos throughout the school or district. A typical district is literally drowning in data, with limited ability to breathe life into that data, and ultimately help the student find success in and out of the classroom.

Data: Enough is enough — or is it?
When it comes to data, less is more. Today’s educators are standing under a stream of data the size of Niagara Falls, holding a teacup. It has been said that school districts run on data. And if you are like most educators, you either love it or you hate it. Today, more and more educators hate it. Why? Maybe because there is just too much and there is just not enough. Confused?

First, there is just too darn much of it. Too many systems collect it. There are too many silos storing it. There is too much noise around it. And there is too much distraction because of it.

Second, there is not enough of it (real-time data). There is not enough time to understand it. There are not enough nuances in the data to drive actual personalization. And there is not enough transparency with others that need it.

To be sure, data is driving a lack of trust in school staff, which coincides with the desire for everything to be digitized. The need to leverage data to drive the “science” of education is the new reality these days. When did everything become so machine-like? So robotic? Where exactly did the humanity go in education?

Whether you have a love/hate relationship with data or a hate/love relationship, data is not going away. There seems to be this need out there to marry the “art” and “science” of education. And data is at the heart of it. In fact, data consolidation to drive better data-driven decisions and deeper relationships with all stakeholders (especially students) may be the single biggest challenge facing K-12 education today.

That is a bold statement, considering the challenges we have before us, including the teacher shortage, student migration away from traditional education, and the never-ending parade of COVID variants. But education is maturing, and technology, i.e., data, is at the forefront of this maturation.

Consider these three simple facts:

  • Districts are data rich, yet information poor.
  • Staff and parents are absolutely overwhelmed by the incoming volume of tech and data.
  • Students have little to no access to their own data.

In most districts, there is not one dedicated place that a teacher, counselor, or parent can go to see a complete picture of the whole child, for the purposes of asking the one simple question that should be asked every day: How is this student doing?

Are the kids all right?
It is a simple question, but virtually impossible to answer at an enterprise level for any adult stakeholder responsible for actively helping a student grow.

How is the student doing in math? That is easy. How is he or she doing with applying yesterday’s lesson to today’s decimal operations unit test? That is relatively easy. But how are they doing with being overly anxious about taking the decimal operations test? That is a bit harder. If the student has a close enough relationship with the teacher, then perhaps that may be answered.

But how are they doing tackling their anxiety, not just related to test-taking, but about feeling as if they do not fit in with any friend groups? How are they coping with feeling as if they do not belong? How are they coping with not feeling loved at home?

How is the student actually doing?
If the student were on an IEP, you could answer many of the above questions, and most of the adults would be on the same page concerning how to address, guide, or help the student. But what about the students that fall in the 85% of students who are not on an IEP? What about the students not classified as Tier 2 or Tier 3 in the school’s MTSS framework? What about the students with great grades who always attend school with no apparent behavior problems?

How are those students doing?
We are all familiar with the old saying that states it takes a village to raise a child, but the world of K-12 education has not yet connected its villages around the data needed to make the whole thing work. Every student deserves the opportunity to be raised by a village, not just those in special need or those that ask for help or those in which teachers take a liking. Every single one.

The good news is that all the pieces are in place to make this happen. It is simply a matter of connecting these data dots:

  • Data collection — All data collected outside of stand-alone systems, including basic form, survey, PDF, and more, must be stored in a student database so they can leverage it to trigger automations, workflows, and reporting.
  • Data consolidation — All pertinent student data collected in stand-alone systems, including their passions and preferences, academic progress, life skills acquisition, mental health status, and so much more, must be consolidated into one place, not languish in their current respective silos, to paint a 360-degree view of how the child is doing, progressing, and feeling in and outside school.
  • Data access — All stakeholders, including all staff, all family members, all community partners, and the students themselves, must be able to access the data in a safe and compliant way.
  • Data decisions — All reactions, including academic growth plans, at-risk interventions, before/after school referrals, and extracurricular suggestions, must be made as a result of seeing the complete picture in real-time by all appropriate stakeholders.
  • Data intelligence — All strategy, including curriculum and instruction, staff capacity and allocations, community partnerships, course offerings, student goal setting, and more, must be made after data has been consolidated and triangulated to understand what is causal, corollary, or both to individual, group, and system success.

Making it happen
So many districts are so close to putting it all together; to getting a 360-degree view of their students, of connecting families, staff, and partners on one platform. Once they do, they will be amazed at the difference it makes.

In Middletown City Schools in Ohio, the district immediately realized a modernized digital system for K-12 school management and had real-time data to guide individual educational plans. According to Melissa Prohaska, curriculum coordinator, “Before, we had to print out all the individual plans, paper after paper. Now it’s all included —– our outside supports can access that information, and it’s in real time.”

In Cincinnati Public Schools, they received actionable data on what programs and partners were doing and which were successful, and they especially enjoyed the simplification of community partnerships. Casey Fisher, the community partnership manager said, “It helps us let our school board know how many of our students are connected to partners and how many partners we have serving across the district.”

Once you open the doors between learning tools, data, and stakeholders, everything begins to happen. Stakeholders will see a real, balanced picture of the whole child. Once 100% of the collected data makes it to the dashboard, then everyone in the learning community can see the complete picture. You will have an actionable view of your data for teachers, administrators, counselors, parents, family members, and other stakeholders. This enables real interoperability of data, and the student becomes the center of everything.

About the author
James Stoffer is the chief executive officer at Abre.io, where he focuses on leading company growth, operations, and talent strategies. He has spent his entire career in the education industry, most recently at DreamBox Learning, successfully leading sales, customer experience, and business operations. Prior to DreamBox, he also held leadership positions at Hobsons and MasteryConnect. His passion is helping scale social impact companies focused on improving the lives and futures of students and educators throughout the world. He has an MBA from Xavier University and a BS in Marketing from Clemson University.