Making your Systems Work for Your District!

Written by Debbie Karcher

Unlike business organizations whose goal is to maximize profits school districts must raise student achievement which is not so straight forward. School districts may use many systems to support this effort. Businesses use Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems to minimize costs and develop innovative solutions to provide an edge over their competitors. School districts use curriculum and assessment systems, and most importantly teachers and principals, to raise test scores and graduation rates. But there is more that goes on in districts than most people realize. School districts must provide transportation, prepare breakfast and lunches, maintain facilities, support business operations, and provide systems to support these activities. This article discusses integrating the data in all systems to improve student achievement and operational efficiencies.

ERP systems are used to help organizations manage and integrate the different parts of their business. In K-12 school districts, there are three types of ERP systems and many ancillary systems. The first is ERP for the business operations that include human capital, finance, time and attendance, payroll, and purchasing. The second is the Student Information System (SIS) that manage core student data including demographics, grading, scheduling, attendance and transcripts. The third which is usually owned and managed by the academic unit are the Learning Management Systems (LMS) that maintain, report, and deliver education systems, and then there are several niche systems used by educators. Ancillary systems include transportation, food services, substitute, teacher evaluation, specific instruction plan solutions (ELL, IEP, ESE) and many other digital curriculum materials. Making this even more complex is that School Administration Software can include all or many of the systems mentioned above.

Personalized learning is an instructional approach that addresses the distinct needs of each child. This approach has not been available as an option until recently because it requires capturing and monitoring learning assessment data to help drive instruction. Caution is required because no one element is a predictor of student learning. To be accurate and predictive the data must come from many systems. For example, there may be data available from curriculum software that will alert a teacher that a student may need remediation for a math concept based on an interim test result. Based on this data the teacher may recommend different curriculum or individual coaching. But this information must be automated and easily available for teachers, otherwise the teacher has been given another responsibility without support.

Business organizations have used the Just in Time (JIT) model to reduce waste and increase efficiency by ordering inventory when it is needed. This information is provided in school operations systems that support food, textbooks, and supplies ordering. But this is not necessarily the case for classroom or school related services. For example, bringing data together for student achievement could use building and assessment data. If the room number for testing is captured and overtime the data indicates that students have better test results when they take the test in a certain classroom, then school administrators may want to create rooms with similar conditions.

Districts need to develop strategies to bring the education and business data together. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was the first initiative that used data to measure a district’s performance regarding student achievement. In  an effort, to meet the NCLB requirements data warehouses and reporting systems were created.  Personalized learning will be one of the drivers that brings systems together to create big data analytics and dashboards.

Some systems are already beginning to provide this information.  School administration software provides modules for student information, business, and learning management systems that are fully integrated. Analytic technologies are starting to make their way into some of the LMS and SIS systems and some of the ancillary systems may already have dashboards notification systems flagging student performance and reporting on system usage and effectiveness. However, there will always be a need to integrate existing and new systems. Unlike businesses, school districts do not have the budgets or resources to replace all their systems simultaneously making the districts reliant on systems integration and warehouses. This has created the need for systems interoperability and initiatives such as Project Unicorn.

Districts can also use more of the data in their existing ERP systems by asking the right questions. These questions could result in improving student achievement, improving business operations, or reducing costs? Once the questions are known then the data from these systems could be imported to a warehouse or reporting system to reflect the findings. Below are some examples of questions and provides examples of the data and systems available in school districts today that can provide the answers.

  • What is the number of absences that will begin to impact student achievement?
    • Uses student attendance (SIS), teacher attendance (Payroll), student test scores (assessment systems)
  • Does number of years as a teacher make a difference?
    • Uses number of years teaching course/grade (Human Capital) and student test scores (assessment systems)
  • Does taking a bus versus walking to school make a difference in student attendance?
    • Uses transportation information and student attendance (SIS)

Once the right question is asked than the requirements to report the results can be determined. The results may be displayed in one or more reporting systems.

The long-term strategy should lead to a dashboard that can help to drive business and student achievement decisions, that include notification systems, some automated responses from connected systems, and uses artificial intelligence to build upon itself. These are requirements that, when districts are ready to replace a system, can add to their proposals.