To understand the real ways that teachers are benefiting from education data tools, the Ed-Fi Alliance  & the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation have begun a series of interviews with educators in the field. The first interview is with Stacey Hensley, an instructional coach and student support team leader in charge of curricula at Parsons Elementary in Lubbock, Texas. Stacey is also the school’s campus testing coordinator and a frequent user of Student GPS dashboards.

The end of “brown envelopes”

Student support is a tough job. I have a file of kiddoes who are really high-need. I’m constantly checking attendance, grades, discipline. What’s nice about the dashboards is how much time and effort they save. In our district, we have things called “brown envelopes.” They’re cumulative data folders. Without the dashboard, I’d have to walk into another office, and look through the folder. I’d have to dig around in a brown envelope full of paper, and then I’d have to make sure it fits back in the file cabinet.

Using the dashboard system, I can just log-on and look to see how my kids are doing: attendance, grades, almost everything I need. At the end of every six weeks, I don’t have to ask every single teacher, ‘Hey can you guys look up…?”

I know the teachers have probably enjoyed my not coming down at the end of every six weeks, going, “Can you give me a copy of the report cards?”

The power of easy data access: Getting kids the help they need faster

We recently had a disability request for additional funding through Social Security. One of our little girls has asthma, so I really wanted to take care of the request fast. I was able to print off everything I need from the dashboard instead of going to the office and getting the brown envelope. The only thing I had to go ask for was health-related. Out of the six things listed that the Social Security administration needs for that request, there was only one that I couldn’t get off the dashboard. That made my job much quicker, which meant she got faster access to the resources she needed.

I’m also on our attendance committee. We go around at 8:00 a.m. to find out who’s here and who’s not. Once we know, we try to make a phone call to see what’s going on.  I don’t have to waste time looking up phone numbers on paper anymore. I just jump on the dashboard. So if the car’s not working or something simple like that, we can help. We can get those kids to school before 8:30. Several times this year, I’ve gone and picked kids up.

Understanding assessment data: Filling hidden gaps now, not later

Assessment data has made other big differences for our students. We used to basically wait for certain kids to fail, and then test them for special ed. Not intentionally, of course, but that’s how it worked.  Now we start assessing everybody in kindergarten. Most of the time, teachers aren’t surprised by what the data shows. The kids that they thought were low are low. The kids they thought were high are usually high. But it’s those middle kids where the data really pinpoint gaps.

If you didn’t have the data, you might think those middle kids were going to be okay. But when you break down their performance by skill, you begin to realize there are hidden gaps. One kid’s phonemic awareness might be really, really low and she’s just compensating in class. Another kid might be struggling with reading comprehension or letter awareness.

Access to that information helps us act now, not later. If we don’t act early, we’ve lost kids’ prime learning years. They’ll always be behind; they’ll always need intervention. We don’t want to wait until third grade to fix issues that we could have recognized and fixed in kindergarten. And if we use the data and tools the right way, we don’t have to.

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