Spark in Your Data

Efficient, holistic, and actionable analytics for the entire school community. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Michael Williamson

CREDIT Longleaf SolutionsIn America’s K-12 school districts, extremely valuable student performance data is spread out among many different systems and platforms. It’s tedious, expensive and virtually impossible to make data-driven informed decisions about students without a lot of manual work. Educators spend all their time gathering this disparate student data and run out of time to deeply analyze the data to gain the wisdom needed to take action with each student to meet their unique needs.

When we discuss how to build K-12 data management systems to solve this problem, it is imperative we provide educators with the best tools so they can maximize their time connecting individually with each student. Educators should have the ability to review all-important information quickly and easily, and allocate the best resources and tools to build a personalized plan to maximize the student’s individual performance. When it comes to

Edtech companies have a responsibility to develop efficient products with actionable data for the entire school community.

having a secure, comprehensive data management platform, the below factors are crucial. This is my “can’t live without it” list for the very best data and analytics tools:

All Data In One Place

The first step in using data to make decisions is to have the most comprehensive collection of data in one integrated location. Data is typically collected among dozens of different products that measure student proficiencies across a host of different domains. Seamlessly integrating this data into one single location provides educators with a one-stop-shop for all student performance data. 

Going beyond student data to operational data, using data holistically is important. For example, at a district level: having the ability to connect data points across student achievement, teacher effectiveness and financial investments — provides powerful opportunities to make the very best decisions for students. 

The User Experience

The number one request that we have heard from teachers over the past ten years is that using data needs to be easy-to-use and must fit within the flow of a teacher’s busy workday. Clunky software won’t make the cut. I’m also a firm believer that the products should be beautiful. Why not? We have the luxury of technology progress that enables us to go beyond user-friendly and to request beautiful, clean design.

We’ve also learned that different users have different needs around using data in schools. One size fits all user experiences don’t work well. We spent weeks in an elementary school as we were designing our data analytics tools, BaselineEdge, studying how elementary teachers organized their data points. What began as notecards and pushpins ended up as a


DATA MANAGED

__ All in one place. Having the ability to connect data points across student achievement, teacher effectiveness and financial investments — provides powerful opportunities to make the very best decisions for students. 

__ User experience. The number one request that we have heard from teachers over the past ten years is that using data needs to be easy-to-use and must fit within the flow of a teacher’s busy workday.

__ Actionable data. The advances in the past ten years of collecting and warehousing data has been incredible, but it’s important now to organize that data and make the data actionable.

Source: Michael Williamson


secure digital data wall with student photos matching faces to the data point. Another example: the data experience that we offer in secondary schools through our products was designed by high school teachers and meets their specific and unique needs.

Lastly, the user experience of the data should reach all stakeholders. Classroom teachers, specialists, school instructional teams, and administrators are all obvious stakeholders. What about parents and the students themselves? The entire school community needs to be included in the dialogue of student progress. For example, our Skedula and Pupilpath portals integrate one-on-one student-to-teacher and teacher-to-parent communication. Being able to give users a platform to communicate real-time data elevates communication and moves data way beyond quantitative.

Putting the “Spark” in Your Data: Connecting to Personalized Action

Using data with no action taken is like having a conversation with no spark: flat. The advances in the past ten years of collecting and warehousing data has been incredible, but it’s important now to organize that data and make the data actionable. A system that merely stores “old” data isn’t going to help the teacher or the child. The product needs to provide real-time data and allow the teacher to use the data in an actionable, clear, and easy way.

Ideally, data systems need to connect “action” to the data. Going beyond reports and dashboards, data should allow a user to easily and quickly take action for each individual student. Based on the data you are reviewing, what are you going to do for the student who needs help? To find the answer, you need a seamless way to take all of this important data and prescribe a personalized success plan.

K-12 data analytics companies must realize that in 2015 and into 2016, this isn’t an “either-or” situation for which features educators choose in their software. Educators need all of these factors to effectively personalize learning. Edtech companies have a responsibility to develop efficient products with actionable data for the entire school community. These are exciting times to be part of the rapid changes that are happening in the market and we are grateful to have the opportunity to make a positive impact for teachers and students.

Michael Williamson is the founder and CEO of Longleaf Solutions, a company focused on K-12 data and performance management solutions. In August of 2015, Longleaf merged with CaseNEX, LLC, bringing together two leaders in the edtech field, along with DataCation and Baseline Edge Products. Combined, the products are used in over 5,000 schools representing over 1.7 million students. 

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