A better reporting tool

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We’re searching for a better student information system (SIS) and reporting tool and have had over the last several weeks a number of demos none of which have been very impressive. They all reflect a number-crunching mindset and even boast how they can average and weight marks. Some will do curving, or more sophisticated manipulations, some drops, some standards-based grading. (Not to mention none really accommodate an IB school’s needs.) But all have a common problem in that they view assessment as a discrete moment, or accumulation of moments, in time–snapshots of student ability or capacity. So we see gradebooks as essesntially spreadsheets with a long row of numbers, one for each moment, for each student.

The problem with moments is that they are fleeting. Human beings don’t exist in moments; they are always becoming. The long rows of numbers only describe what was, not what is or will be.

Don’t get me wrong. I like data and to be sure there is a correlation between past scores and current and future behaviour. But that’s difficult to pull out with a quick look at a gradebook. (Teachers probably don’t really need to look–they know or ought to know what their students are doing anyway.) And practically speaking it’s impossible for a department head or head of school to get a quick look at how all the students in the school are doing.

I’d love to see a gradebook tool that ported data to a dashboard that created small graphs, like sparklines, showing student performance that would sit in a window on my laptop or maybe even become an app on my iOS or Android device. The same data/apps could be shared with parents.

From there we could aggregate data for classes, grades, gender–you name it–with yet more sparklines so department heads and upwards can get current and accurate pictures of how the whole school is performing or how a school-wide initiative, say a writing program, is working. It would be an easy thing to add in triggers so when the performance of a student or group of students starts trending downwards or spikes up the program would flash an alert.

The tiny graphs emphasize trends over moments, which I submit is a much more useful perspective. They also reinforce in a quiet but important way that learning is not about achievement, but about continuous growth. That’s what we mean when we say we are creating lifelong learners, yes?

 

6 Comments

  1. Reply
    davidwees February 25, 2012

    I’d recommend against this: “The same data/apps could be shared with parents.” It encourages too much participation from parents in their child’s academic life. They need some separation.Maybe the amount of data shared with each parent might not be exactly the same? Perhaps a child on “academic probation” could have a much richer set of data shared?

  2. Reply
    Brad Ovenell-Carter February 25, 2012

    I completely agree, David. It’s a separate discussion about just how much data to share at each point in this model. But I wonder: do you think a simple graph would invite too many questions or would it give enough information without having us get bogged down in details.There is a larger discussion here, too. Fundamentally, parents are the priomary educators of their children. What this means is that they set the direction and select a school etc. (I have a post explaining this idea coming up.) If that is the case, how much information should they be entitled to?

  3. Reply
    Kickboard February 25, 2012

    Great post. Love your vision for how data can be used at the school-level to both provide a real-time understanding of academic progress and measure the effectiveness school-wide initiatives. It’s interesting that you mention behaviors. Does your school track behaviors for individual students and classes?

  4. Reply
    Kickboard February 25, 2012

    Great post. Really insightful comments on how data can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of school-wide initiatives and, when used with a good dashboard, for real-time, high level information on academic performance.I’m intrigued by your comment on behaviors. Do you you track analyze behaviors for individual students at your school to evaluate classroom culture?

  5. Reply
    Jeremy Angoff May 4, 2012

    Brad,This idea has really spoken to me, and I am in a similar situation: looking for, or potentially designing, an LMS + grade book for a school. One question comes to mind: from what sources would these sparklines pull their data? Would they still receive as input traditional grades (snapshots of moments in time) or could we supply them with additional sets of data?Jeremy

  6. Reply
    Brad Ovenell-Carter May 4, 2012

    Good question. We could plug in any sort of data and have several spark lines measuring different things. What would you like to see?

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