We hear the buzz words all the time about organizations wanting to be more “data-driven” or use “business intelligence” to make important decisions. But what is everyone really talking about?
The term “business intelligence” was coined in 1865 by Richard Millar Devens in the Cyclopedia of Commercial and Business Anecdotes.1 Devens used it to describe how a banker gained profit by receiving and acting upon information about his environment. Forward to the present day, private sector organizations have been using business intelligence to drive profitability and competitiveness for decades. In an education setting, if you can deliver district data to the right people in a timely manner you should be data-driven, right? It’s not so simple to deliver when you’re inundated with a flood of data from multiple sources. Trying to collect, analyze, and make sense of large amounts of data presents unique challenges for today’s school districts.
For your school district to be truly data-driven when making critical decisions that impact student performance and district goals, there are 4 key elements that need to be in place:
1. Collect the right data
To be data-driven you must collect data. But not just any data, it must be the right data that can answer the questions that will drive positive change in your school district. Some data areas of concern for most districts include discipline, academic progress and attendance. Data from different systems like the student information system (SIS), assessment platforms, learning apps, special education programs and others may share data points that can be pulled together for greater insights. The data collected must also be accurate, trusted and free of any bias during the collection process.
2. Data must be accessible and able to be queried
Once the data collection process is established the next step in becoming data-driven is to pull all the data together in a useful way. There needs to be a system to join all the data together, share it and be able to query it for reporting and historical analysis. Some districts are turning to longitudinal databases and interoperability solutions to automate data access and integration with their growing number of applications and data systems. Using the Ed-Fi® Data Standard, as an example, can give your district the confidence in knowing that your data from multiple source systems will be accessible and will interoperate successfully.
3. Reporting and analysis
With so much time spent on reporting state-required data, most school districts know the challenges of collecting and reporting accurate data for their district. While very important, reporting is just a snapshot in time and doesn’t always tell the story or answer all the questions about district performance and student achievement. Imagine that your district generated a report that showed average daily attendance was down by 23% last month. Without any context, you don’t know why or how to resolve the issue so that the trend doesn’t continue. Alerts or watchlists can be set to notify you in real-time when a certain threshold is reached to help you be proactive. Reporting will tell you what happened, and analysis will tell you why. Both are important and necessary to be data-driven.
4. Creating a culture that acts on data
Technology is moving at a rapid pace to help sort out the data flood. Having the right technology architecture in place and the analytical tools that will help you generate insights certainly helps. But you still need the people to ask the right questions and an organizational culture that encourages action based on insights. You also need people who have the skills to identify the right data and metrics to inform next steps. Increasingly, we see school districts create that culture through data literacy programs and professional learning communities at school sites aimed at making sure everyone knows the value of the data and how to make the most of it.
Being a data-driven school district is not easy, but the rewards will be many for your students, parents, educators and community. To become data-driven you must develop the tools, abilities and, most importantly, create a culture that acts on data.
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1 Cyclopedia of Commercial and Business Anecdotes, https://archive.org/details/cyclopaediacomm00devegoog/page/n24