If educators could spot drop-out indicators every day for each student, they would have a powerful tool for improving the graduation rate. Nashville School officials think they have that tool in what’s known as the Data Warehouse Dashboard.
The word “warehouse” is a bit misleading. It’s really a sophisticated online database software that allows almost every piece of information on MNPS’ 80,000 students to be entered, accessed and updated every 24 hours. Laura Hansen, director of information management for Metro Nashville Public Schools, demonstrates how it works.
“I can click on the student’s name and it opens up their student profile Dashboard and it gives us information at a glance– a lot of information consolidated in one place– about the student,” explains Hansen.”
The official name of the program is Longitudinal Educational Analytics and Decision Support System (LEADS). Nashville is the only Tennessee school district to have this technology, which is funded by Race to the Top dollars.
A staggering amount of information is made almost instantly available through LEADS. Much of it is information that has always been maintained by school districts. But LEADS provides a high-tech, reliable way for student data to be tracked, monitored, and rapidly accessed. MNPS officials are most interested in the warning signs for dropouts as identified by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
The top 3 warning signs or “flags” are: attendance problems, out of school suspensions and academic failures. Hansen makes a few clicks on her mouse to pull up a computer screen that tallies those indicators for MNPS high schools.
“So, this indicates there are 478 students who have tripped one of those 3 flags. Students who have 2 of those flags there are 76. And then we have 17 students who have tripped all 3 of those at-risk indicators,” explains Hansen.
“When a student starts hitting the flags, our schools are really on top of those students. You can see what supports and interventions have been done on the Student Profile Dashboard. You can click on the number of supports and interventions. This student has 31 that have been logged.”
Being able to spot warning signs of a dropout as soon as they pop up helps school officials to intervene. The student might need extra academic support; counseling to find out if there are issues at home; or a different type of school.
The LEADS Data Dashboard has been available to school officials and principals for a couple of years. In 2011, teachers have been allowed access to some of the student data. Many, like Joy Pillow-Jones of Maplewood High School, say the system is very useful in the classroom and helping to determine if a student needs additional support and what kind.
“If I get a child blindly, not knowing them, they may tell me something (to help with), and I may help with that issue—not knowing that based on some of these other things the situation is deeper. “With LEADS, you can see a pattern, maybe, when they started having problems,” says Pillow-Jones. “And when you talk to them, they can tell you at this time we lost our home; at this time my mom and dad divorced; at this time, this happened.”
LEADS is not a tool only for high school students. The Data Dashboard also helps teachers provide targeted instruction for students in middle and elementary school—so they don’t develop warning flags in the future. And on a larger scale, officials can look at the entire school system for areas of concern or success.
“Best practice is that all of our decisions are data-driven decisions,” says Hansen. “And there is so much data out there, to be able to leverage that and to bring that kind of power to people’s fingertips, so that when they say ‘We need to focus on this,’ they can show ‘And here’s the reason why.’ Anecdotal information isn’t what we’ll rely on any more. It’ll be solid evidence that here’s where we need to go. And research shows that when you’re able to do that, you’ll get better results.”
The MNPS LEADS program is now being considered by a few other Tennessee school districts, and even the state Department of Education for managing school data. Meanwhile, MNPS is looking at ways to expand LEADS for use in tracking student progress through college; reviewing teacher performance to help determine best sources for recruitment; analyzing data to tap community resources to help with a particular school problem, like bullying; and monitoring information that might be useful to public health officials.
Hansen admits some of these plans are sensitive and might raise privacy concerns.
“The sharing of that (data) and even the collection of that is a sensitive area that we’re going to navigate carefully,” says Hansen. “It is one of those very sensitive issues and it’s one of those roadblocks that has stopped other cities from being able to move even as far as we’ve moved. So I think with some understanding and some partnerships and being very careful and cautious, we do have the ability to move forward with this. And I can’t over-emphasize enough the fact that it is going to take a community effort to get a good picture of the whole child. School isn’t the only group of folks that own that. We’re also not the only folks that own the responsibility for making sure our students succeed.”