A Student Data Cinderella Story: How Chicago Educators are Using Data to Improve Student Success
Intrinsic Schools is a network of public charter schools – open enrollment, no testing required – that combines technology with great teaching to provide every student a personalized path to college and career. Through new thinking and an innovative approach that empowers teachers to differentiate instruction for students’ optimal learning, Intrinsic aims to create a revolutionary new model that prepares all students for postsecondary success and provides the education community with a roadmap to sustainable implementation.
© Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing Photography
At the core, every education institution exists to serve its students and set them up for success — and Intrinsic Schools is no different. Intrinsic decision-makers knew that supporting students and helping them succeed, both in the classroom and beyond, meant rethinking how to collect, analyze, and manage student performance data.
For years, Intrinsic maintained its data infrastructure using a “bubble gum and duct tape” approach. Student performance metrics — such as GPAs, test scores, grades, attendance, and participation — were gathered piecemeal from siloed sources and without a concrete data strategy. And while teachers were doing their best to continue supporting students with a fragmented infrastructure, this was ultimately unsustainable. After a full day of teaching, instructors still had to manually enter student information across disparate applications, leaving them little time to analyze and understand how data could help individual students.
What’s more, Intrinsic found that they needed a dedicated team member to manage its wealth of data, which created gaps in process and efficiency. What Intrinsic needed was an agreed-upon data governance framework — and someone to oversee and enforce it.
To take the first step toward reshaping its data infrastructure, Intrinsic partnered with the Ed-Fi Alliance, a nonprofit that helps education agencies implement data standards to achieve interoperability. First, Ed-Fi solutions architect Marcos Alcozer began the process of implementing the Ed-Fi Data Standard within Intrinsic’s data framework. The Ed-Fi Standard created the operational layer that allows the analytic layer (including data lakes, BigQuery, dimensional modeling, etc.) to work. Through this implementation, Alcozer was able to slowly but surely transform Intrinsic’s “bubble gum and duct tape” foundation into a sturdy and reliable one.
The newly implemented data standard (as well as Ed-Fi’s operational data store and API system) would not only allow Intrinsic to “clean up” and format the student performance data, but it would also aggregate the data and ensure the information was readable, actionable, and able to interface with Intrinsic’s other systems. The caveat: Intrinsic still needed a dedicated person to lead these processes and oversee the schools’ data.
Intrinsic established a new role, Analytics Engineer, to meet its evolving data management needs. Saybah-Katrina Russ, a science teacher turned instructional leader turned data professional, joined the Intrinsic team to oversee the schools’ data infrastructure — a task she managed with ease thanks to the work Alcozer and Ed-Fi did to improve Intrinsic’s data foundation. Additionally, Russ was committed to improving how Intrinsic processed, analyzed, and used its data to help students succeed.
“We knew there had to be a better way to streamline Intrinsic’s data management process. We were spending a lot of time getting the data into the system, rather than using it to gain the valuable insights needed to help our students succeed.”
DIRECTOR OF DATA • INTRINSIC SCHOOLS
With the addition of Ed-Fi’s technology, Alcozer, and Russ, Intrinsic Schools has felt the far-reaching positive impacts of interoperability and a cohesive data strategy.
On a macro level, Intrinsic Schools has achieved a graduation rate of nearly 98%, a feat which Russ notes is partially “thanks to the new data management system’s role in academic planning and addressing learning loss.”
School administrators can look to the Ed-Fi standard to draw out comprehensive data sets to set more specific and realistic goals, track benchmark and progress-to-goal, and provide early intervention to specific students needing individualized support.
For instructional coaches, this new era of data governance enables them to leverage specific data to decipher why a certain course may be underperforming, where in the curriculum students struggle, and finally, collaborate with teachers to establish a clear plan and path to solving these challenges.
To ensure teachers fully grasp the power of data interoperability, Intrinsic hosts “Data Days,” which offer instructors concrete guidance on how to analyze data reports, ultimately helping them understand if they are effectively hitting their goals.
And finally, students at Intrinsic have a clear understanding of how their GPA is calculated, and where and how in their education experience they can spend time improving to have the largest impact on their learning outcome.
Since its inception, Intrinsic has earned a Level 1 or 1+ rating. This rating is based on the CPS School Quality Rating Policy which includes indicators such as student growth and attainment on nationally normed standardized tests (including growth for priority groups), attendance and freshman on-track rates, and other metrics aligned to the district’s strategic plan. And as the network continues its now interoperable and comprehensive data to inform decision-making, it can ensure teachers have the information they need, families understand how to support at home, and every student receives a high-quality, well-rounded educational experience.
By mending a fragmented data architecture, Intrinsic helps ensure that every learner graduates with the knowledge, tools, and resources needed to be successful in their postsecondary experience and beyond.
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