You might remember that I went hunting last year for data tools in the exhibit hall. I did so again, along with attending a couple of presentations on how data is being used in schools. So, here's the wrap-up.
I looked at three different tools in the exhibit hall. None were quite to the level of a student information system, but all integrated assessment and performance data. Two are not worthy of further discussion (one, in fact, admitted that they do no testing/accommodations for accessibility).
A third, Schoolzilla, didn't totally blow me away; however, they are using Tableau to build their reports. The reports follow the Shneiderman mantra of "Overview first...then zoom and filter...details on demand." To be fair, I don't expect any product to knock my socks off in an exhibit hall setting and where I spend <5 minutes at a booth. However, Schoolzilla may be worth a more in-depth look, if your district is on the hunt for that sort of thing.
I also spent a chunk of time at another venue chatting with a rep from SchoolCity. Their product is recently undergoing a complete redesign, but I got a behind the scenes peek at things. I suspect that this product may well be worth a second look in the coming months.
Again, my socks remained firmly on my legs. Okay, so they were imaginary socks---the conference was in Los Angeles and it was too warm to wear such things---but let's just go with the metaphor here. The presentations I attended were focused on sharing how a particular school or program was using data. The common thread among all these was that no one starts with a question---and I find this worrisome.
While it's good practice for student assessment to guide the next steps in teacher instruction, it is impossible to use every single piece of data derived in the classroom. We have to focus---we need to be picky about where we dig. I know it isn't as simple as that. The hardest part of any analysis is that very first step: Asking a good question---the one most worth asking.
I was pleased to hear one presenter talk about how too many teachers see the purpose of data as sorting and selecting. I became worried, however, when she mentioned how "all the data is spewed across the wall in the War Room." My colleague often says that we have to get beyond admiring the problem. Data can be used in strategic ways, to be sure, but that means respecting what we collect and being thoughtful about how we move forward with it. There is something troublesome, for me, in any terminology that involves spewing and war.
As for me, my presentation went well enough---I even ran short, although no one complained about getting away early. :) The next morning, this happened (well, after the earthquake):
This data woman hopes to see you at the 70th annual ASCD conference in Houston next year!