This is my final entry in the Education Meets Big Data blog series. Let’s review what we've covered so far…
In my first post, I explained that statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDSs) track student data from preschool through college and workforce across the state. SLDSs can be used to see one student’s growth over time, or, when data is aggregated, spot trends and drive behavior.
In the next post, I shared an interview with Armistead Sapp, one of the authors of the book Implement, Improve and Expand Your Statewide Longitudinal Data System, where he discussed state funding, big data and overcoming challenges with patience and persistence.
In my last post, I shared key steps for preparing your SLDS. Those key steps can also be generalized and used for any data management system for analysis and reporting.
For this final blog in the series, let’s understand the benefits behind an SLDS. Simply put, the SLDS allows for streamlined question asking and answering. Here are a few examples showing how teachers, administrators, state legislators and policy makers can use an SLDS to impact student success.
Teachers and administrators
Using an SLDS, teachers and administrators are able to get near-real-time answers to their questions. The primary benefit is having accurate information so that they can act in a timely fashion. For example, consider a third grade teacher who gets a new student in the middle of the year. If this student struggles with reading, the teacher could use an SLDS to see which remediation techniques have been tried at the student’s previous schools and, potentially, what remediations are typically effective for the student’s particular struggles.
The ability to hit the ground running saves valuable time and resources in the classroom. In an SLDS, comprehensive student-level data is stored on the student record and can be provided to teachers. When a student moves from one grade to the next, administrators and teachers can be provided with more timely information than ever before about the student’s past grades, behaviors, test scores and risk factors. Before the school year even begins, a teacher has a window into each student’s specific needs. Rather than addressing issues as they arise, teachers can proactively meet student needs, giving extra attention to areas of weakness or concern, or creating a more challenging plan for students with high aptitude.
State legislators and policy makers
In addition, receiving quick and accurate answers enables smarter reform. The ability to know if a reform initiative is working in a timely manner can influence its continued funding. Say a state legislature funded a three year program for early reading skills in the state’s kindergartens. Instead of relying on gut feel, anecdotes or politics, data can show how the program impacted student achievement and outcomes. Even more important, research can become the backbone for new initiatives, driving policy rather than simply supporting it. In short, longitudinal data is essential to gauging the need for change. First, by helping determine what change is needed to address problems and secondly, by helping evaluate whether certain reforms are working.
The state overall
A functioning SLDS system ultimately provides accurate and important insights about a state’s overall performance — its success in educating students; the effectiveness of its teachers; and the progress of its schools, districts, programs and initiatives. SLDS should be seen as a resource for the state and the community. The ability to ask and answer questions to support smarter, more cost-effective solutions and better outcomes is an amazing benefit everyone can get behind.
For additional information on SLDSs, check out excerpts from Chapter 1, Chapter 3 and Chapter 11. Or, read the book entitled, Implement, Improve and Expand Your Statewide Longitudinal Data System, to learn more about what it takes to implement (or improve) a successful SLDS.
Thanks for reading and sharing this blog series.