The Ed-Fi Alliance is in the business of listening – to our states, districts and educators – to understand how best to use student data to improve student performance and teacher satisfaction. Over the coming months, the Alliance will be sharing a variety of perspectives on how data is being used, protected and managed in schools and classrooms around the nation. This post features a perspective from Nicole Purser, a Texas educator who recently appeared on a panel at SXSWedu.   

Taylor ISD is one of the many school districts across the state leveraging the Texas Student Data System’s studentGPS™ dashboards. The dashboards are a collection of reports and metrics that provide educators with access to historical, timely, and predictive information on all students to help improve education outcomes for all Texas students. 

Nicole Purser is a dashboard steward and instructional specialist for Taylor ISD. She has first-hand experience with student data dashboards as a teacher and instructional specialist, and as the point person for setting permissions to use the dashboards. That dual perspective gives her a unique take. We asked Nicole to share her thoughts on how fingertip access to key student information is helping her and her colleagues do their best work with students, and on how she approaches student data privacy in her role as dashboard steward.

*What are the most pressing challenges facing a classroom educator today?

The most pressing challenge that I see classroom educators face today involves effective time management, meaning the sheer number of things educators have to juggle: how to differentiate their instruction to meet the demands of all learners; balance their professional and personal lives; collaborate with their peers; prepare for state assessments to meet state accountability; meet the increasing expectations of administrators and parents; and manage their classroom to make it run like a well-oiled machine.

*What role do you see technology playing in helping educators address those challenges?  Is there a particular example that comes to mind?

Technology provides a secure view into a student’s academic world, and in many cases, a multi-perspective view.  For example, I am the dashboard steward and instructional specialist for Taylor ISD.  I help teachers to improve their instruction and ultimately perfect their craft.  I use the studentGPS™ dashboards to save educators time on everything from finding parent contact information to creating lesson plans that address learning gaps in their class.  In fact, I recently modeled a lesson for a teacher by creating collaborative small groups strategically based on student data from the dashboards.  The ability to access such technology provides educators a one-stop shop for more purposeful instruction in the classroom.

*You’re also a parent with a student in the district.  How has dashboard data changed conversations with your own student and his teachers?

My son’s teacher was able to look at all of my son’s data from past years as well as discipline information, attendance data, state assessment data, etc.  When the question arose about the possibility of him having a learning disability, it was beneficial for his teacher to pull up the dashboards and discuss his information with the appropriate stakeholders in his academic success.  My son’s teacher was also able to keep him updated whenever he wanted on how he was progressing.  My son is a worrier, and when he was failing a bunch of assignments, his teacher was able to assure him that he was still doing ok by bringing up his profile on the studentGPS™ dashboards.

*You recently appeared at SXSWedu on a panel that addressed student data privacy.  What were some of your recommendations during that session?

I have been responsible for access to the studentGPS™ dashboards for our district for quite some time, and ever since its beginnings, it has been a very secure program.  Our Director of Human Resources reviewed each position within the district with a fine-toothed comb, creating a security check for access to the dashboards.  This preliminary work allowed me to ensure the security of the dashboard data by only allowing access to those who pass the security check.  I took this responsibility very seriously, and still do. 

Whenever an employee leaves our district, their access is cancelled, and when a new employee gets hired, I check their status to diagnose their accessibility to the dashboards. I have denied access to employees in the past and explained that there are laws in place that prevent student’s information from being shared with just anyone.  Taylor ISD has made it very clear that personal information must be kept secure. 

Although security is extremely important, we also believe that getting the student data into the hands of the stakeholders responsible for the student’s progress is just as important.  We believe it is critical for educators to have as much data as possible to be as purposeful as possible when planning for instruction for each student.  Not every child learns the same; therefore every child should not be taught the same.

When all is said and done, the goal is student success. I challenge everyone to do their part to make it happen.