As the new Certify Customer Success Manager at Certica, I had the opportunity to speak with longtime Certify users at Aldine ISD in Texas: Candice Moore, Executive Director of Student Services and PEIMS (State Reporting) Coordinator, and Bryan Savant, Director of Student Services. Aldine ISD is a district of nearly 70,000 students in the Houston area and is among the 10 largest districts in Texas.
Aldine has used the Certify data validation application since 2007, improving data and data management processes in key areas such as student demographics, special programs and discipline. Like many districts in Texas and across the U.S., Certify has enabled Aldine to significantly improve the state reporting process, by ensuring that data issues are reviewed and resolved throughout the year. Aldine’s Student Services team defines data validation rules in Certify which are applied to their student information system, and leverages Certica’s pre-defined Rule Libraries, as well.
Aldine’s Student Services Department web page describes Certify as “a district information validation solution that ensures the completeness, accuracy and consistency of student information—before that information is submitted to the state and is used for district planning and operations. For the first time, district education leaders, information managers and data administrators can manage the integrity of student information in a pro-active and systematic manner.”
Certica: In bringing an automated data validation solution to your district, what problem or problems were you aiming to solve?
Aldine ISD: When we first sought out Certica it was because the district was looking for a way to monitor the quality of work being done in data-heavy departments. At the time, our director of finance was looking for a tool to hold people accountable for their work quality. He saw the Certify Scorecards as a way of rating his department and their progress in fixing data issues. However, after reviewing the product’s functionality, the Student Services department (which manages the student information system) developed a much more expanded vision for the project. We felt that wasn’t the way to use the product – not as a penalty: Certify is your friend. Certify helps you to uncover issues and data anomalies so you can review and correct them proactively.
Certify also provided advantages that kept our district out of trouble from an auditing perspective – especially for discipline-related issues. Managing discipline data can be a real challenge: for example, assigning student suspensions for more days than is legal in Texas. If you find a time-sensitive discipline data error a month after the discipline incident, there is no opportunity for you to adjust your actions and therefore you must report it, and then get involved in audits and action plans. Now our discipline data is checked in Certify every morning. Another area where Certify helped us was in preventing us from sending incorrect information to the parents and guardians of the student involved in discipline events – now the data provided to parents and other stakeholders is more accurate.
Certica: What were some of the technologies and methods that your district had used to validate and manage data in the past?
Aldine ISD: We feel we had good record-keeping before using Certify, but our district and school level staff were spending a lot of time on data clean-up which we felt took time away from the business of educating students. Campuses would spend hours, which would accumulate to several days each month, reviewing reports and manually searching for issues in their data. There was no way to know at the district level if this was being done or if it was being done with rigor. If the schools were not following through on their data maintenance, the district would not find out about it until we submitted the data to the state. When we received the state reports, campuses had to address issues that had happened months in the past which requires that someone remember the event and try to correct what had been a time-sensitive issue.
Certica: How did you see Certify as being different from other approaches?
Aldine ISD: One of the best features of Certify is how easy it is to learn. We’ve had to do very little training as we roll the application out to new users. There is a lot of turnover with campus data clerks, so it’s easy to just provide a new username and password for a new hire on the Monday they get started. Because Certify gives immediate feedback, it also enhances and continues to train on what the users learned in their initial training. Certify is not difficult to use.
The data validation process was so tedious and time consuming before, people were happy to have Certify. We once relied on users to run reports daily. Now, the Certify Scorecard is in the end user’s email each morning. The process is proactive and not reactive. Campus data clerks review the Scorecards for errors, find the problems and fix them. Districts which are hesitant to roll out the Scorecards to their schools should know that it just won’t be as impactful in terms of data quality improvement unless you reach the end user to provide immediate feedback from which they can learn.
Certica: What have been the biggest wins for your district, in terms of specific data and business areas?
Aldine ISD: Lately, the biggest wins have been with grading and scheduling data. That data has a big impact. When grading and completing report cards, because of a change in our student information system, there is now more room for error on how grades are averaged if schedule changes default incorrectly. Though this data is not required for PEIMS (Texas state reporting), it affects kids’ lives (report cards, transcripts, GPAs, class rank, etc.). We asked: how can we fix this issue in a way that would also help the users better learn the student software to prevent issues? We realized the best way to assess this was via Certify. We had used district-created queries until we created rules running in Certify. The grade and scheduling rules were available this school year, along with other new rules for transcript data.
Discipline data is a huge challenge for us from a time and resource perspective. The data management effort is massive. Especially in a high school – dealing with so many people and coordinators. Certify has helped us make a lot of progress with our discipline data.
We are now in the process implementing logic that will evaluate graduation requirements and state testing requirements. We will bring our campus testing coordinators on-line with Certify in the coming school year.
Certica: Have you been able to measure the impact of your data quality program?
Aldine ISD: While we haven’t specifically analyzed direct cost savings, our Certify users feel it’s a great time saver which lets them spend more time with students (time with students is a better use of funds than spending time finding data issues). Users are correcting data issues that were ignored before – if those errors were in funded areas, it can have unintentional financial impacts. Everyone receives a Certify email showing what’s wrong, the level of accountability is high, and easy access to the problem is such a good thing.
We changed our SIS in 2010 and again in 2016. We started with discipline data first, due to the magnitude of the data and the state reporting requirements, then followed with enrollment and registration data. In considering our new SIS, one of the first questions people asked didn’t have anything to do with the new SIS software, but, rather, “will we still have Certify with the new SIS?” Users had experienced how difficult the data clean-up process was before Certify. When PEIMS submission time rolls around, we know that our data will be right. Our users feel the data is valid all the time, just not at state reporting time.
For the 2016-2017 school year, the Texas Education Agency awarded Aldine ISD with a letter grade of “A,” along with a management rating of “Superior.” This is the state’s highest possible rating from Schools FIRST (Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas). This is the 14th consecutive year the District has received the “Superior” rating.