Written by Brad Fischer
Senior Director of Data Analytics
Five Star Technology Solutions
Schools are drowning in data. They collect data on everything from a student’s performance on the state assessment to what books they checked out from their library to what they had for lunch. And yet, school administrators and teachers often struggle to find the data they need to make more informed decisions to better support students. The problem isn’t that they need more data; the problem is they don’t have an easy way to make use of their existing data.
When it comes to K-12 Data Analytics, two terms are often interchanged when looking into options to help: Data Warehouse and Data Dashboard. These three questions help explain the difference between the two terms and can help you decide which solution is best for your district.
Do you need a platform that houses your data or a platform that displays the data you care about most? Or both?
Most people think of a warehouse as a large building used to store goods, merchandise, etc. Likewise, one of the main purposes of a data warehouse is to store data from multiple sources. The purpose of a dashboard, on the other hand, is to display that data, and more importantly, to convey important information in an understandable format.
Consider the information displayed in a car dashboard: speed, gas level, RPMs, and perhaps other information such as indicator lights warning you to “check engine” or “check tire pressures.” A well-designed dashboard carefully makes choices not only on what information it should display, but also thoughtfully omits information not worthy of displaying. Although your car could collect and report on lots of other information (windshield wiper fluid level, carbon dioxide emissions, oil level, and more), car designers must decide what’s the most important information to regularly display to a driver.
Schools face a similar challenge when it comes to harnessing the data they collect. Trying to collect and digest all your school’s data is both impractical and counterproductive. When it comes to your school data needs, consider whether or not you have a place to monitor the data you care about most (such as student learning progress).
Are you trying to secure your data from unauthorized individuals or are you trying to help the appropriate people make better decisions? Or both?
Much like a rental storage facility that houses personal items, your data systems must be easily accessible to authorized individuals, but securely protected from unauthorized users. You must be sure your data is protected from data hackers and from people without proper approval. At the same time, most schools want to adopt a platform that makes the data accessible and actionable for those that need it most.
When it comes to your school data needs, consider whether or not you have a place to securely store information that keeps it protected from unauthorized individuals. At the same time, reflect on how easily your staff can access the data and more importantly, how quickly they can get answers to their questions based on the data.
Do you need a data warehouse to preserve historical data that doesn’t change or a dashboard that updates as new data is collected? Or both?
It’s not uncommon for a data warehouse to house more than a Terabyte of storage. For reference, one Terabyte of data is equivalent to roughly 250,000 photos taken with a 12MP camera, 250 movies in HD video, or 1,300 physical filing cabinets of paper. The requirements of your data storage needs are dependent on several factors including the size of your district, the types of data being stored, and how many years of historical data you are wanting to store. Fortunately, Services like Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Amazon Web Service (AWS) make it increasingly easier for schools to scale their data storage capacity as their storage needs increase, so you only pay for the storage you need.
Looking back at historical data can help you find trends in your data and help identify areas in need of most attention. At the same time, most schools also need a way to access their current data as well. For example, as they receive results on state testing, schools want to be able to view their most recent results quickly in order to make decisions on how to best support their students both over the summer and into the next school year. When it comes to your school data needs, consider the flexibility of your data solution. In addition to viewing historical aggregated data, consider the ways you want to disaggregate your results, comparing results from one testing cycle to the next years, comparing results school buildings, and/or filtering results by specific testing categories and/or student demographics.
At Five Star, we help schools do data differently. We provide schools with both targeted dashboards to help administrators have greater clarity of their specific questions regarding their student learning progress disaggregated by building, grade, and student demographics AND a comprehensive data warehouse platform that provides the district with additional robust capabilities, such as the ability to view multiple assessment types and assessment windows for a desired group of students all in one place.
Instead of drowning in data, we help you not only stay afloat, but help you ride the wave of strong results precisely because you have access to the data you need. To learn more, visit fivestartech.com/data-analytics.