PowerSchool helps Oregon Community Unit School District 220 identify struggling students and improve their performance. With a graduation rate of 98%, Oregon CUSD 220 is ranked as one of the best schools in the nation by US News & World Report.
“We love PowerSchool and can’t fathom using any other SIS [student information system]. It has created ways of tracking and reporting on student data that we never thought possible,” said Adam Larsen, Assistant Superintendent at Oregon CUSD 220.
By providing unique, powerful data customizations, PowerSchool Student Information System (SIS) is helping administrators and teachers at Oregon Community Unit School District 220 identify struggling students and improve their performance. The district, with 1470 K-12 students in three schools, has enjoyed improved graduation rates, and helped lower its rate of freshmen students with at least one “F” grade – in part because it is able to identify negative trends in student performance from multiple customizations it has created within PowerSchool. The district has been using PowerSchool since 2010.
“Mentoring and caring for kids when they are failing or in at-risk academic situations has helped turn them around. With PowerSchool, it makes it possible to see the important data that identifies these students, so we can step in to help them,” says Adam Larsen, Oregon CUSD 220’s Assistant Superintendent.
Oregon CUSD 220, located in the scenic Rock River Valley in northern Illinois, takes great pride in being a dynamic, proactive district with a mission to “educate students to be lifelong learners who are productive responsible citizens.” It’s been ranked one of the best schools in the nation in US News and World Report’s “Best High Schools” rankings, featured presenter at state, regional, and national PSUG meetings.
“Because of my background, PowerSchool was an amazing fit,” he says. “After cleaning up our data and setting up rules for maintaining data integrity, we moved into weaving data throughout our decision-making process. Once we learned the basics of customization, we started creating screens, reports, and dashboards to support our school improvement efforts, and we never stopped. I’ve started calling this process educational data science, where we get the right people in the room, talk about student data, and solve the difficult problems facing our schools. Because of how agile PowerSchool is, we often go from problem, to conversation, to idea, to development, to implementation in a matter of days, sometimes hours.”
Oregon CUSD 220 wanted a student information system that would be more current with state reporting updates, did not require extensive overhead to install on user machines, and something that would support a data warehouse. Larsen says one of the district’s major goals with a new SIS was to be more data-driven in its decision making.
“Before we had PowerSchool, our student information was scattered across many systems. We had a clunky SIS, ACCESS databases, Excel spreadsheets, and even paper. Now, everything goes into PowerSchool, and nothing lives in a silo,” Larsen says. “Having all the data in PowerSchool means everyone has timely access to data, right when they want it.”
Larsen says PowerSchool has also made state reporting a lot easier, and “the extracts save so much time in compiling the endless reports that are needed for state reporting. If we had to do any of these by hand, it would take forever.”
Other benefits the district has enjoyed with PowerSchool include its clean interface with everything in a place that makes sense, according to Larsen. “It is rare that someone can’t find the exact screen or report they want. And having a web-based SIS is awesome for my tech staff. You create an account and you’re done, whereas before it was program-based and had to install on every system. We really appreciated that difference.”
He adds, “By connecting people with real-time information on their responsibilities, we’ve moved far beyond data walls or static dashboards and into dynamic, behavior-changing data views that result in better outcomes for students.”
One major differentiator of PowerSchool over other student information systems is its flexibility and ability for customizations that can benefit each district for its unique needs.
“Customizations are pretty easy to do and can wildly change the capabilities of PowerSchool,” Larsen says. “The recent improvements in page fragments, plugin packaging, and database extensions have made it possible to capture, display, and aggregate data in numerous ways.”
Oregon CUSD 220’s PowerSchool customizations are helping have a meaningful impact on student performance and school efficiencies. The following are just a few of the numerous customizations the district has created and utilized to help improve students’ educational experience.
Larsen has created multiple customized reports for teachers and improvement plan committees that show which students have been failing classes two to three weeks in a row, all in digital dashboards so administrators can identify negative trends early and step in to help the students get back on track. “Our school improvement process has been completely transformed by these customizations and PowerSchool,” Larsen says. “PowerSchool allows us to grab the data that traditional systems don’t do. We can tell how metrics have changed over time.
We can easily get data from two to three years ago and see how students have been performing, and see how to improve.”
One such metric is the school’s measure of freshman students with failing grades in English, Mathematics and Science. In 2008, 29.4% of freshman had at least one F in these core classes, and partly due to the district’s proactive work in identifying trends through PowerSchool customizations, that number has dropped by more than 10 percentage points to 19.0% in 2015.
“We know their grades last week, two weeks ago, and so on. We know all the things they’re doing, what missing assignments they have, and we are able to step in, give them a mentor, and stay on top of their grades. We have caring faculty and staff who want to support struggling students. PowerSchool helps us identify the students who are the most at risk and find them before they are actually failing,” says Larsen.
Currently, Larsen is working on an early warning system customization using current data to identify students most at risk for failure. It will be a view where teachers and principals can see which students are at risk because of attendance, missing assignments, and discipline referrals, and also show how much that data has changed from previous weeks. “Any of the student’s individual teachers may not know about the issues outside of their classroom, but if a student is doing it in all of their classes, we can identify this and go to the student to find out what’s going on,” says Larsen.
Says Larsen: “We’ve moved our entire discipline management and attendance to a paperless system. The entire disciplinary referral process has moved inside of PowerSchool. Teachers write referrals in PowerTeacher, and it’s all digital. There’s no longer a written referral process. And we’ve digitized a lot of the processes of attendance and tardies. Nobody’s really running reports and printing out any more.”
students’ missing assignments
The district created a visualization that shows all of the missing assignments students have in each of their classes. “If a student happens to be in Hawk Time, our supervisory study hall, and says that they don’t have anything to do, the teacher can check with one click to see all of the missing work they have. It helps keep them on track and stay caught up in each of their classes,” says Larsen.
As part of the district’s school improvement goals, administrators and teachers encourage students to get involved in activities that interest them and promote intellectual, emotional and community growth. The district tracks activity rosters in PowerSchool and Larsen was able to make a report showing students who are not in any activities.
“We believe the more kids are involved, the more likely they’re going to check ‘in’ to high school than check out. We identified 40 or so kids who aren’t in any activities, and found out they felt there was nothing of interest for them,” Larsen says. “Through conversations and focus group work, we found out that a large group of students was interested in Dungeons & Dragons, so we started a club. We’ve also just formed a tabletop games club which came out of conversations of, ‘These kids aren’t in anything, what can we do to get them involved?”
According to Larsen, Oregon CUSD 220 went from being a data deprived district to one of the most advanced users of student information in about three years. With improved student performance, more engaged students, better equipped teachers, and enhanced school efficiencies, the district is thoroughly enjoying its PowerSchool student information system experience.
“We love PowerSchool and can’t fathom using another SIS,” Larsen says. “PowerSchool has become the bed of our data lake. It has created ways of tracking and reporting out on student data that we never thought possible.” The only drawback of all of this work has been creating an insatiable appetite for data in our administrators, teachers, and staff. They want data in their hands all the time. New data, historical data, trend data, predictive analytics, everything. Fortunately, the PowerSchool customization process is something that we can train our technical staff to do, so we have begun developing our people in this area in order to increase our capacity.”
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