Sep 24 2014

8 Expectations for Student Information Systems

SIS can streamline your classroom workflow. But which should you choose?

Having a variety of assessment results at educators' fingertips is essential in our data-driven school climate.

Being able to quickly access and organize this information allows teams to come together and make the responsive instructional decisions that best meet students’ needs. The efficiencies possible through a quality student information system (SIS) can ensure that multiple measures are considered and little time is wasted when providing learners with the most personalized instruction possible.

The editors of Data Wise: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Assessment Results to Improve Teaching and Learning agree. Standardized tests will not suffice. The authors encourage school leaders to refrain from acting on the basis of one measure. Instead, they should consider: What other evidence can I gather to paint a more complete picture of what is going on?

When developed with students and teachers in mind, student information systems can enhance education in ways not possible before technology. Here are eight expectations the book suggests considering when weighing software for a school or school district’s information system. The system should be able to:

1. Store interim assessments.

Teachers collect these benchmark results, often monthly, and analyze literacy and numeracy progress with them. The assessments can help both the student and teacher assess growth over time and compare the growth rate to trend lines. Putting these results side by side with more formal or informal assessments can improve our understanding of students’ current abilities.

2. Examine responses to individual test items.

Does your SIS allow you to break out student responses to certain questions by content and/or skill? Being able to mine down to targeted understandings and processes where students need more support can be critical for interventionists and classroom teachers.

3. Group student assessment results in a variety of ways.

Sometimes data don’t initially reveal the needs of a student, or a group of students. Concern could focus on how learners in special education versus those in the regular education population are faring in reading. A report comparing those two cells might provide data to inform a plan of action.

4. Track students over time.

Many in education circles view tracking unfavorably. They should. The authors speak to tracking that follows students over their school careers. This information can show how their learning progresses through the grades to determine how their school experience has changed them. When many districts subscribe to one SIS, they enhance student learning, as transiency is all too common.

5. Be accurate and up to date.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but so many SISs cannot connect with different systems or let users upload data easily. Robust software should be able to “talk” with providers and display that information regularly. This saves schools and IT departments time and energy.

6. Do sophisticated work and be easy to set up.

This quality might be the SIS holy grail. It should be easy for educators of all technology proficiency levels to use. If a person cannot learn how to use a system's basic elements in an hour, it is too complex. On the flip side, heavy users should be able to generate robust reports.

7. Provide important and finite options.

Educators need to be able to combine and compare data sets to make the best instructional decisions possible. But we don’t need every detail. Simplicity has many advantages. We are often fine with a “Top 10” set of graphs that can give us at-a-glance visuals to differentiate our instruction and drive our purpose for collaboration.

8. Report “latitudinal data.”

This term describes how a student performs not over time, but in relation to factors, such as time of day or the class itself. Using parallel data sets dependent on environment, not duration, can reveal specific issues.

For example, when I was an assistant principal, school staff discovered that a student was having behavior problems right before lunch. We thoroughly discussed the support she needed during this interval. The information we collected, analyzed and acted upon helped us to help her become more successful as the school year progressed.

Just about every school and district uses a student information system. But we can demand better if the SIS isn't meeting some of these expectations. The competition is fierce, so providers must listen to our requests. To offer highly personalized school experiences for students, we should demand the best.

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