Read the Original Article at http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=217701629
School will soon be out for the summer for most American kids. But before the next school year begins, thousands of educators in Columbus, Ohio, will be schooled on using business intelligence tools to help improve overall student performance.
The effort is part of an ongoing alliance between Columbus city schools and Nationwide Mutual Insurance, which has been working with the district for nearly four years as part of Nationwide's Corporate Citizenship program, which focuses on employee volunteerism and other community-related services.
The relationship involves a team of five Nationwide IT professionals, who are employed and paid by Nationwide, providing their services without charge to the school district. The Nationwide team's main focus is on helping district educators use WebFocus business intelligence tools from Information Builders to analyze student data in an effort to improve student achievement in core subjects, raise graduation rates, and help create a road map for overall school reform.
Columbus, with 126 schools, 55,000 students, and 4,500 educators, is Ohio's largest school district.
Over the last few years, Nationwide and Information Builders have built and installed a performance management system. Applications take data from nearly 20 school district and state data sources -- including attendance data, test scores, and discipline records -- and put it into an Information Builders WebFocus business intelligence environment, said Barbara Boyd, Nationwide's assistant VP of education partnerships.
Nationwide also is working with Ohio State University to populate the systems with instructional strategies known to work in urban settings. Already part of the system are some links to research regarding instructional strategies for improving competency in reading and mathematics.
While thousands of Columbus educators have already been using the system, the district is "stepping it up a notch" and will offer three days of training to expand the system's use. The district want educators to use it to aid in planning and measuring results of the system's annual All School Improvement Plan, in which each school creates an improvement plan and goals for the next school year, said Boyd.
Before the deployment of the BI-based system, efforts to help students struggling with certain skills were more reactive. But these tools help the district become more proactive in addressing student academic weaknesses. The tools "make us much more efficient and effective, driving instruction in a much more meaningful way," said Melinda Dixon, principal of Livingston Avenue Elementary School in Columbus.
In the past, "there wasn't a lack of data in the district, but a lack of information to act on it," said Boyd. The performance management system allows the district to tap the same kinds of BI-driven tools that help users in the corporate world make better business and management systems, she said.
The tools enable educators to create graphical and other reports that present analysis of student data to "help project what will happen in the future" with students based on current performance, Dixon said. The reports help identify the kinds of weaknesses individual students have in specific areas of core curriculum, such as trouble adding fractions, so that teachers know what sort of additional help the child needs.
At Dixon's elementary school, students take reading and math assessment exams every nine weeks to evaluate what the kids learned during those previous nine weeks. Teachers use pacing guides to ensure that all students are being provided the lessons that will be tested for each of those nine weeks.
"The more specific data you have and the sooner you receive it, the more improvement you'll see," Dixon said.
Using the tools to analyze the data, educators can assess how students are progressing for grade level based on what was taught those nine weeks. Because individual weaknesses are identified and intervened on, analysis of subsequent exams lets educators track how the students are responding to the extra help.
The insight also helps principals project how their students will fare in Ohio's annual standardized testing and how their schools will perform overall, also taking into account other factors, like attendance records. A student needs to have attended school for 120 days during the school year for a test score to account toward the school's overall performance on the state exams.
"Kids change, students move," Dixon said.
Nationwide has engaged researchers at Ohio State University to develop measurement mechanisms to demonstrate how well these efforts are working. At this point, Boyd said, it's impossible to tie improved graduation rates and proficiency performance to any one part of the overall program that includes using the data analysis as a guide for intervention efforts.
"These programs exist among a variety of efforts driven by the district. The combination of efforts appear to be moving the needle," she said.
As for the Nationwide IT team working with the school district, the relationship has special personal significance. "All of us are Columbus school graduates," Boyd said.
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