I remember reading a study performed three years ago by US News and World Report where they evaluated the thirty largest industries in the US and discussed how each performed their business functions. Education, being one of these industries, was described with the byline, “Education generates more data than any other industry, and uses it the least.” This, in my opinion, is a highly accurate statement. Education generates massive amounts of data through the various applications used to manage students, staff and operations. These data sources include student information, financial and human resource management, assessments and tests, transportation records and many others. New data is generated as attendance is taken every day for every student for every period, as each grade is entered into a teacher’s gradebook and as many (sometimes dozens) of student assessments are taken multiple times a year. And every assessment contains as many as dozens of scores as each detailed area of a student’s performance is measured. The result is that the education industry is highly adept at generating data. What we’re not so great at is using it.
In part one of this post, I talked about the many issues that arise when districts implement reporting systems that don’t have information-based decision making as their end goal. Today I’d like to discuss some strategies that work. I’d like to start with some basic assumptions your district staff will need to make.
First of all, good information-based decision making demands accurate, raw data.
Secondly, we must decide that it is not data that we’ll be channeling to the district decision makers, but rather our goal will be to provide them with information. (The difference being that information must be easily consumed and quickly acted upon.)
Last, we must agree that decision makers are time pressured. From this we can construe that they are looking for the important trends and issues first, and only then do they need to see the details to support them.
Obviously, if we begin from this point the appropriate conclusion is to simply provide consumable, actionable information to managers in a way that demands as little time from them as possible. Of course, this is easier said than done.
A common problem you’ll run into is an understanding gap between decision makers and data processing personnel. The expertise of the data processing staff is to perform technical tasks to manipulate raw, numerical data. They’ve learned to read dense, technical facts and to glean information from it. They don’t always necessarily realize what a strain that same process can be for a worker in another role.
So, to effectively generate management information your team needs to understand two things: the technology needed to combine large and diverse sets of data into a single resource, and what information is needed at the highest levels to actively support decision making. This requires that data management teams meet and communicate with their administrators to understand what information will truly be useful to them.
Then this information must be provided to the decision maker in an immediately consumable format. A well designed set of information provided to a decision maker should have adequate white space to reduce data density. The information should be to the point and presented with little fanfare for maximum effectiveness. It should be graphical and summarized in images and charts. It should also be easy for the user to access more detailed information if further evaluation is required.
Lastly, the system should be flexible enough to provide decision support at the operational, managerial and educational levels. For example, Principals manage their school operations, staff and teachers as well as their primary task of managing student achievement. For a tool to be effective, it must address all of these areas.
I wish you luck in implementing a data management system like this at your own district. It takes work, but it’s worth it if it means that your district can make decisions and set policies based on accurate, well-understood information. If you’re not sure that your current systems or processes can meet these requirements, feel free to contact Tyler Technologies. We’d be happy to discuss solutions that meet these needs, like our Tyler Pulse application, with you at any time.