Managing That Data

Emerging trends in education data management. 

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Scott Glinski of SkywardEducation data management is becoming an increasingly essential part of school administration. Over the past few years, one such company helping administrators in this area, Skyward, has seen some intriguing trends emerge related to personalized learning and digital instruction.  “They show a strong move in using technology to customize and improve instruction,” says Scott Glinski, president of Skyward. “Our efforts to support these trends have permeated throughout our entire product line. We’ve improved our mobile applications, developed our Course Learning Center to support file sharing and discussion boards, and introduced numerous enhancements in our Gradebook to facilitate communication and greater feedback on student performance,” he says. “As the expansion of personalized learning initiatives continues, we believe our product is positioned well to meet these new trends.” In this in-depth interview, Scott delves in deeper with some further insights on data-driven decision making as well as thoughts about what’s just around the corner.

Victor: Based on your experience working with schools and districts across the country, what are the greatest challenges they are facing today? And how does Skyward help them overcome them?

Skyward logoScott: The greatest challenge schools and districts face is meeting new expectations with fewer resources. Whether a budget reduction, aging technology or fewer staff, allocating diminished resources can be extremely challenging when districts confront the need to offer more to students and the community. Schools need updated technology, better communication tools, or emerging instructional approaches such as a flipped classroom or 1-to-1 rollouts.  We continually expand our product line to support these needs in order to help districts accomplish goals even though they have less. Our patented Student Management System framework reduces the learning curve, providing smoother implementation while ensuring data integrity.  Districts also appreciate that our dramatically reduced back-office management does not strain their limited technology resources.

Victor: How has Skyward’s student information system evolved in the past few years?

Skyward circleScott: Our product is constantly evolving to meet the ever-changing needs of our customers, but certainly the most dramatic improvement has been our new user interface, deployed in the School Management System 2.0. We completely changed the user experience as the culmination of a yearlong project that included bringing in outside consultants who specialize in user experience design. Their ideas for the redesign were developed through extensive customer interviews. With respect to our Student Management Suite, we have expanded the Gradebook to provide more tools that support standards-based grading approaches, especially at the secondary level.  We also completed key enhancements to support classroom management, such as improving our lesson plan and curriculum mapping modules.  We incorporated academic standards management within our core system to support the need of managing and analyzing Common Core initiatives.  Lastly, we continue to add new modules, like Response to Intervention, as needs emerge for broader data management.

Victor: How has Skyward’s school business management system evolved in the past few years?

Scott: Along with the implementation of the 2.0 interface, our School Business Suite enhancements have focused heavily on improving workflow, and transitioning from paper-based to electronic processes that foster greater accountability, reduce costs and improve throughput.  Key examples include personnel-related tasks like job changes, form submissions and expense reimbursement processes.  We built our workflow tool to provide each district the flexibility to configure these processes to their internal control procedures.  We have also seen traditional, requisition-driven purchasing move to purchasing cards that are more versatile in today’s schools, but retain controls and approval with Skyward credit card management tools.  Along with the benefits of easier management, districts are also “earning” money by using purchasing cards with various rebates and cash back options that help reduce overall expenditures.

Victor: What are key steps that school districts can take when rolling out a new data management system or module to ensure a smooth and successful process?

Scott: Implementing a new system requires a strong partnership between the vendor and district. When choosing a solution, districts need to closely scrutinize what is provided to ensure a successful implementation includes adequate training, professional data migration services, and an experienced project management team. Skyward has developed an extremely effective process for implementing new customers. The initial step involves strategic planning to evaluate employee strengths, process improvements that are viable with the Skyward solution, and analyzing data migration options to improve data integrity. Beyond these initial steps, our dedicated project managers focus heavily on an open communication and oversight process to achieve the ultimate goal of a well-trained, empowered staff that is prepared to use the Skyward system effectively.

Victor: What role are teachers playing in the data-driven decision-making movement and process?

Scott: Teachers play a critical role. They are the primary source of student examination data, analyzing a student’s performance and adjusting instruction to help the student succeed. Providing the necessary tools – as well as professional development services – for data interpretation is crucial. Skyward provides numerous information analysis tools and we expect this technology offering to increase. Our online assignment and assessment tools are powerful and effective – a teacher could conduct a brief assessment on a series of standards at the start of class and, with our automated scoring, receive immediate results on overall classroom performance, which may indicate remedies the teacher can carry over into their daily instruction. From the students’ perspective, our Response to Intervention and Special Education modules offer easy-to-use tools that manage the individual needs of students, and offer further reinforcement or services that help them succeed.

Victor: Now for a broad question: What are your thoughts on education in general these days? 

Skyward USA mapScott: I am continually impressed with school districts that provide a high-level, quality education while suffering from budget constraints. We recognize these constraints and strive to help districts accomplish more with fewer resources. The success our customers are experiencing is extremely rewarding for us. The approaches we see emerging for personalized learning, greater use of technology and professional development resources reinforces our great confidence that our education system is effectively preparing students for their future. We certainly applaud the efforts of these schools and districts, and appreciate the sacrifices that school district employees make to support this noble endeavor.

Victor: What’s around the corner in terms of technology in education? 

Scott: The advancements we see in technology use in education are very exciting.  Certainly the expansion of mobile devices, especially iPads and other tablets, will continue to be a driving force in managing classroom activities, and instructing students.  We also recognize the increased use of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced testing will drive the importance of using technology in primary grades to build student experience with the tools of the future.

We anticipate the continued expansion of technology to support collaboration on, and management of, personal learning plans on a student-by-student basis.  It’s important to offer a strong technology solution that manages these needs without creating additional work for teachers. Skyward will continue to expand our software and provide additional integrated modules that support a consistent management portal that all staff can use.

Victor: Anything else you care to add or emphasize? 

Scott: Skyward recently announced the addition of its Student Reward System as an upcoming module within the Student Management Suite. The Student Reward System incorporates a game-based application that assists districts with providing positive reinforcement of student behaviors and activities.  The system is revolutionary to our market and by building a game-based approach it provides a way to promote positive actions for all students. In addition, the system can highlight efforts that typically may not be included in a term grade, such as class participation, attendance habits or incremental improvements. We also incorporated traditional game components such as a customizable avatar, game-play and various rewards.  We anticipate this will be a great tool to reward all students, especially the students who may need special encouragement.

Victor Rivero is the editor in chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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