The Past, Present, and Future of Data Analytics in Schools

Student Data

The use of data analytics is increasingly part of modern life, whether you’re talking about headlines like vaccination roll-out efforts, practical matters like tracking hours at your job, or daily routines like the average height and weight chart at a pediatrician’s office. K-12 education is no different, a topic Dr. Adam Cibulka is deeply familiar with.

As a senior manager at Forecast5 Analytics, now part of Frontline Education, Dr. Adam Cibulka thinks about data in education every day. But it was during his nearly two decades in public education in the Chicago area that he recognized a need for innovation: when it came to monitoring student achievement per state requirements, spreadsheets just weren’t cutting it anymore. That’s when he partnered with Forecast5 to develop a better way to track student metrics, from attendance, to SAT scores, to AP achievements, and more.

Of course, those state requirements are themselves part of an overall shift in education toward greater accountability and public reporting on both student achievement and school and district achievement. In the years since No Child Left Behind, student data has moved from being siloed at the local level to being a matter of state and national interest — and that’s a lot of data to gather, track, and make sense of.

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Where are we now?

Ironically, the very volume of data can make it difficult to tell the story of student progress. In order to achieve a “speed to insight,” Dr. Cibulka suggests schools think through the what, why, and how of data analytics:

What are the two or three key questions you’re trying to answer for your district?

  • Let the goal of communicating that information guide what data you collect and who you make it available to.

Why are you gathering information?

  • Data should tell the story of student progress in order to support better decision making. Consider what information will help you know how to move forward.

How are you collecting and interpreting data?

  • The right tools can make all the difference. Whether you will use spreadsheets or the sort of automated system Dr. Cibulka developed with Forecast5, be sure you have a plan that will enable you to collect, organize, analyze, and inter pret data.
  • Of course, how you collect data has security implications for your district, too. Even before the pandemic, EdWeek reported that the number of K-12 cyber attacks more than doubled from 2018 to 2019. And when schools closed across the country in 2020, upended processes could have interrupted routine cybersecurity policies. If you’re working with a software vendor, make sure they’re committed to compliance and keeping your data safe.
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Where are we going?

Dr. Cibulka looks forward to a future where schools spend 10% of their time gathering information and 90% acting on it — rather than the reverse, which is commonly the case at present. Working with a specialized analytics partner can go a long way in helping your district spend less time on gathering data and more time strategizing and acting on it.

3 Practical Areas for Growth

Dr. Cibulka identified three practical areas for growth for schools as they support student success with data analytics.

1. Ensure Clean Data:

Establish consistent protocols and processes for data collection, so you can be sure you’re not comparing apples to oranges when it’s time to make decisions.

2. Visualize the Reality That Data Represents:

Find a way to ensure you’re still seeing students, and not just numbers, and grasping the ramifications on education they represent.

3. Access to Data:

Make sure that information is made available at the district and building-leader level. To successfully employ data, safe and secure access, along with efficient access, is essential.

The one thing that hasn’t changed? The desire to see students succeed. And data analytics opens another door to following that goal.

Want to learn more about this topic? Listen to the full interview with Dr. Adam Cibulka here.

Brittney EstesBrittney Estes

Although Brittney's first job was in publishing, her favorite job was in an elementary school office, where she had the joy of providing hands-on help to students and their parents throughout the school year. Now she loves every chance she gets to research and write on all matters educational.