In Arkansas, almost 40,000 teachers in 258 school districts and 19 charter schools ensure that the state’s 475,000 young minds are “future ready.” According to Dr. Tom W. Kimbrell, ADE commissioner of education, the state agency is guided by a commitment to “provide educators a comprehensive set of tools to give every child in every part of our state the opportunity and hope that only comes with a quality education.”
In November 2013, Arkansas was recognized as one of the first two states to meet the Data Quality Campaign’s 10 recommended State Actions to Ensure Effective Data Use. The Data Quality Campaign is a national advocacy organization committed to realizing the vision of an educational system in which all stakeholders, from parents to policymakers, are empowered with high-quality data to make decisions that ensure every student graduates high school prepared for success in college and the workplace.
In 2009, the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) launched the ADE Data Center (adedata.arkansas.gov) to provide educational stakeholders the information they need to support student achievement. Maintained by the Division of Research and Technology, the ADE Data Center is an online collection of data systems, tools, and reports for educators, policymakers, teachers, parents, school districts, and others.
According to Cody Decker, the Division’s Assistant Commissioner and Chief Information Officer, the ADE Data Center plays a vital role in supporting the state’s commitment to use data as a flashlight for illuminating opportunities to enhance teaching and learning while preserving and protecting the confidentiality of protected student information.
“There’s a rich culture of data use in Arkansas and a strong commitment from the Arkansas Department of Education, our General Assembly, and all our stakeholders to use data to drive decisions,” says Decker. “Data-informed decision making is not just a buzzword in Arkansas. In the classroom and all levels of government, decisions can be better informed with complete, correct, and timely data that is provided to educational stakeholders in a manner that is both secure and compliant with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).”
The ADE Division of Research and Technology supports this data-driven culture through its efforts, a centerpiece of which is the ADE Data Center. “Our missions are to use data to inform policy, to equip educators, and to protect and preserve confidential student data,” Decker says. “The ADE Data Center allows us to accomplish that vision through one central location that provides secure access to academic data for educators.”
Today, the ADE Data Center is a busy intersection on the road to student achievement. “We’re equipping teachers with practically real-time data,” says Decker. “The ADE Data Center offers educators data on attendance, tardiness, discipline, and state and local assessments.”
Almost all Arkansas school districts are supported by PowerSchool’s student information and financial/human resources systems. PowerSchool’s student information system, eSchoolPLUS™, manages critical student information and supports student achievement. The company’s financial/human resources system, eFinancePLUS™, manages critical financial, procurement, payroll, and personnel functions.
To support an increasingly robust use of data in the state, ADE sought to create a sustainable initiative for putting essential tools and timely reports at the fingertips of its stakeholders.
The ADE Division of Research and Technology launched the ADE Data Center to provide educators with access to data systems, reports, and tools that inform decision making and positively impact student achievement.
As it approached the herculean task of creating the ADE Data Center, the Division of Research and Technology was guided by feedback from its teachers and school leaders. Committed to evolving the site to meet the ever-changing needs of its audience, the division today continues to routinely engage its stakeholders.
“I think it’s critical to always involve stakeholders in any information system that we are developing,” says Decker. “Typically our stakeholder engagement sessions are held at educational service cooperatives. These regional meetings provide the ability to demonstrate tools for data-driven decision making and solicit feedback from educators on how they can be used in the classroom. We then architect the systems based on their needs.”
Decker says it was important for the Division of Research & Technology to identify a single authoritative data source for each data element. “Creating a data dictionary that lists and defines every data element is certainly one of the keys to building a Data Center with high- quality reports. For each data element we publish, the data dictionary enables us to understand where that data came from. So, when there are questions about the data or there is a need to correct the data, we have a place to point individuals to,” he says, noting the dictionary is published on the Statewide Student Information link in the ADE Data Center. “We like to publicize the data that we are collecting so it’s understood and we’re transparent about the process.”
Creating a user-friendly and sustainable system is key to the success of this initiative. “Thanks to Arijit Sarkar, the Division’s Director of Information Systems, and his team, most of the hundreds of reports on ADE Data Center have been automated to the point that we can efficiently update them,” says Decker.
For ease of use by the audience, Sarkar notes that the Center has been “segmentized.” “This way we can provide our stakeholders with targeted assistance toward what they are actually looking for,” he explains. “The Report Data Tab on ADE Data Center offers tools for parents, educators, researchers, and ADE staff.”
Decker notes that exceptional care is taken to protect and preserve confidential student data. “We limit access to this data to only those who have a legitimate educational need, as defined by the Family Educational
Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA),” he says. “We’re very conscientious about even aggregate reports. We don’t produce a cell size that allows the data to become unintentionally identifiable.” To protect the student information of underrepresented minorities, Arkansas will not publish an individual data point that represents the combined data of fewer than 10 students.
Decker says the ADE Data Center would not be possible without “school districts providing high quality, complete, and timely data.”
Sarkar says Arkansas relies on IBM Cognos®, including the Educational Performance Management System (EPMS), as its tools for business intelligence. “Once all the data from different silos have been loaded into a single database, we then do the extract, transfer, and load process,” he says. “We have this data loaded in a warehouse and then put a reporting engine on top of it and from there the reports actually go directly from the warehouse to the website.”
The process is made possible by the fact that almost all Arkansas school districts are supported by PowerSchool’s systems. “The only way we’ve been able to architect a sustainable, enterprise-class data system is to have a small number of source systems that we can pull from to power the data warehouse and the ADE Data Center,” Sarkar explains.
Although already robust in its offering, the ADE Data Center is continuously being innovated by the Division of Research and Technology. For example, the Division of Research and Technology recently began providing districts with a continuously updated snapshot of their Standard Annual Accreditation System report.
“Each year, ADE publishes an accreditation report for each school district,” Decker says. “We utilize the data that is submitted to produce a preliminary accreditation report. District administrators can routinely review the report to ensure issues are resolved before they ever become significant problems.” With reports and tools at their fingertips, teachers and school leaders are better able to provide every child in the state the opportunity for a quality education.
Data-informed decision making is not just a buzzword in Arkansas.
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