Data and analytics are increasingly becoming a critical component of K-12 education. School districts are leveraging data to identify opportunities to improve student outcomes, increase teacher effectiveness, and enhance operational efficiency. However, purchasing data and analytics tools can be a daunting task. With this guide, we aim to simplify the process by outlining the key considerations when evaluating data and analytics tools for your school.
1. Data Quality:
When evaluating data and analytics tools, it is essential to ensure the quality of the data they utilize. Consider whether the data is reliable, accurate, and up-to-date. Additionally, consider whether the tools can use the data housed in your existing data systems, such as your student information system (SIS), learning management system (LMS), or assessment tools.
As George Fuechsel, the pioneering IBM computer programmer, said, “Garbage in, Garbage out.” Talk to your data and IT teams to assess what tools you currently use. How easily you can pull data from them, and how well-maintained are they? Systems that have fallen out of use or are not well maintained will likely have unreliable data to extract. It’s also good practice to audit your internal policies for managing these applications to ensure the data entered by staff is consistent with best practices.
Consider the data that your community can access. State-level data will not always match what you see in your SIS and financial systems. The data reported publicly by your state’s Department of Education may influence how news outlets report on your district. Comparisons are most often made to neighboring communities or districts similar in demographics. You should be aware of the questions that stakeholders may ask and prepare to answer them using data that can be verified. Does your state report combine charter school enrollment and your district’s traditional public school enrollment? Will this impact how the public views specific metrics? When looking at the trend in your fund balance amounts, do stakeholders understand how much your district spends each year and what the percentage of fund balance means for a district of your size?
The data and analytics tools you select must be easy to use and accessible to key stakeholders based on what data they need. Ensure your chosen system has an intuitive interface, easy navigation, and training and support resources to help users leverage the tools effectively.
Identify who in your district will be using these analytics. How experienced are they with using data for decision-making? What level of training and support will your stakeholders need?
Use this information to assess the tools you are evaluating and the process to implement them for your teams. What type of support services does the company provide? Will you have access to advisors to help navigate and train user adoption? Is there a learning center, learning materials, or videos provided by the vendor?
Student data privacy is a significant concern in the education sector. When evaluating data and analytics tools, ensure they comply with relevant data privacy regulations, such as FERPA. Consider the security measures to protect data, including user authentication, data encryption, and audit trails.
Identify who in your district will be using these analytics. What sort of data access should they have? How does that impact what user management requirements are needed? Does the application allow role-based access controls (managing access by roles/groups)? Can you filter student data by users so only staff that should see student records can see those records? How is data loaded into the application, and is it encrypted in transit and at rest (which is a security best practice for protecting data)? How are user accounts created and managed?
Ensure that the data and analytics tools you select can scale to meet the needs of your district. Consider the number of users, the data volume, and the data update frequency. Additionally, ensure that the tools have the flexibility to grow with your district’s changing needs and evolving technology landscape.
Review vendors’ licensing and user policies to ensure they will meet your current and future needs. How are user accounts added and managed? Managing user accounts and access can be a full-time job, so make sure that the applications you review have a process for quickly seeing and managing those accounts.
You will also want to review the implementation process documents. Check to see how the data is loaded, if there are any file size limitations, how frequently users can refresh data, and whether automation is available for data loading. It’s also good to ask vendors how prepared they are to scale their applications and whether they can share performance benchmarks such as software uptime.
5. Data Visualization:
Data visualization tools are essential for communicating insights to stakeholders. Ensure that the data and analytics tools you select have robust visualization capabilities, including creating dashboards, reports, and charts. Consider whether the tools provide real-time data visualization and can drill down into the data for further analysis.
Each district will have two groups of analytics users – your consumers and your builders. Any analytics tool should provide features that support both of these groups.
The consumers of analytics need practical, simple-to-understand visuals that are meaningful and descriptive. When assessing the applications for your consumer, try not to get lured by complex, technical visualizations. These often don’t communicate as effectively as straightforward charts or tables. While simple bar charts and line charts might seem boring, they are often the best option if you want to communicate information through visuals.
Your builders will need to be able to analyze the data quickly, build their own data views, and construct dashboards for the consumers. When assessing the applications for your builders, review the process, start-to-finish, for building analytics and dashboards. Is the team responsible for building analytics able to learn the application with minimal training or support quickly?
When evaluating data and analytics tools for your school, these essential factors will help ensure you select the right tool for your district’s needs. The right tools can provide insights that improve student outcomes, increase teacher effectiveness, and enhance operational efficiency. With the correct data and analytics tools, your district can gain a competitive edge and better support student success.
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Elise is a writer and member of the award-winning content team at Frontline Education. A former member of Frontline’s events team, she is passionate about making connections, whether that be in person at events, online via social media or directly in her writing.