STRATEGY: Ensure that the data system addresses multiple non-curricular needs of the whole child (e.g., transportation, food, parents/guardians, counseling, additional supports, etc.).
There are a variety of ways that a school or district data system can gather data about the whole child, beyond test scores and course grades, in order to personalize education for each student. For example, the district’s learning management systems (LMS) can be used to collect information about the student to help teachers and administrators better understand each child’s needs. Tools such as an LMS can identify and monitor interventions and supports, in areas such as transportation, food needs, allergies and medical needs, counseling supports, etc., to create a culture of empathy, personalization, and student-centered structures. A well-managed and complete system provides educators, administrators, parents, and students with the full picture of individual student needs and guides effective interventions and supports.
An effective data system must be comprehensive; it must track a range of information to show a complete and honest representation of what happens for students in a school or district. Obviously, tracking student academic data is critically important, and in this post-NCLB era most schools and districts use a variety of tools to do just that.
At the same time, this is not the only data that provides a measure of effectiveness; just as important—and certainly related to academic wellness—is data that is not directly related to the classroom and that provides a fuller picture of a student’s well-being. This data can be related to the counseling supports that some children get; to the supports provided to the family of the student; to the physical health of the child, including the meals that he or she is provided at school; and even to the way the student gets to school on time. As more and more schools and districts move to personalize learning for students, it is important that they address the whole student, beyond traditional academic measures.
However, any data collection system needs to be simple enough that all members of the school or district community can understand, communicate, and act on the data collected and shared. School and district data teams need to take the time to determine which data sources matter, how those sources will be analyzed, and how they all knit together. Coherence is critical for this process to be most useful.
First Steps to Consider
Most schools already have some form of data system in place, including an LMS, but it may be limited to collecting academic, attendance, and behavioral data, for example. Further, most schools already have systems in place to manage and collect data from activities such as counseling, transportation, and food service (allergies, free or reduced-price lunch counts). Because these systems are likely already in place (in one form or another), it is important when bringing in a comprehensive and holistic data system to
- Identify the core components of what that system should manage.
- Assemble the team of people who know the data best, including a technology specialist, the IT director, and the individual responsible for overseeing professional learning in the school and district.
- Identify the core data that exists and develop a plan to bring other data, as appropriate, into the system. Ensure that the plan is based on the time, technological, and capacity needs of the school and district.
Complexities & Pitfalls
Bringing in a new and comprehensive data system requires thoughtful planning, support, patience, adaptability, and empathy. Schools and districts have copious amounts of data that all too often go un-analyzed. It’s important when starting to implement any new system to focus on the core components and not feel the need to ensure that every specific functionality is up and running.
- Pushing forward systemically without listening to the challenges being faced at the classroom or administrative levels can cause major issues with long-term implementation. Integrating any system that meets the needs of the whole child is less about the program and more about the people using the program. The leadership team needs to listen to those using the system and work with them to provide the needed support, time, and training.
- Waiting until everything is “perfect” will result in never launching the system. Integrating and using a holistically focused data system that meets the needs of the whole child is a continuous and iterative process. Using a growth mindset approach to process will help ensure greater long-term implementation successes.
- Launching new programs or procedures without field-testing them is a sure way to impede implementation. Take the time to pilot the program and to roll out its many functions slowly, to not overwhelm those using it.
- To what extent does the current data system meet the needs of the whole child?
- To what extent does the core team understand and use the functionalities of the full data system?
- How might the school and district data teams monitor progress of data integration?
- How might those teams identify what components of the whole child approach to data integration are missing?
- How might the teams ensure that the program is being used consistently and with fidelity?