Decision-Support System Helps Utah Improve Its Student Achievement

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Utah has a history of putting technology in place, and then using that technology to help its educators and students improve teaching and learning. The current case in point is how the Utah State Office of Education (US'E) is aligning itself with initiatives and programs designed to place the right data into the right hands in order to improve data-driven decision-making at all levels. Part of this process involves creating reports with data derived from SETDA’s Profiling Educational Technology Integration (PETI) initiative into a statewide decision-support system.

Kathleen WebbThe PETI initiative includes three surveys and several site visit documents, including interview and focus group protocols. The result is providing a clearer understanding of the impact technology is having in Utah classrooms and where more assistance may be needed.

Ed Tech Background

Utah serves 486,938 K-12 public school students as well as 22,640 teachers and administrators throughout the state. It serves its 40 school districts and another 26 charter schools by developing the state core curriculum, licensing educators, and assisting with professional development.

Beginning in 1990, the Utah Legislature provided 10 years of funding to build a network infrastructure and provide technology for schools, with the ultimate goal to support improved student academic achievement.

As district offices and secondary schools connected to the emerging statewide network, educators commenced purchasing hardware and software, schools scrambled to address technical support issues, and educators became involved in professional development activities. After the initial round of skills-based training, education technology trainers grappled with how to match teacher needs with the training they were offering. This made it apparent that a personalized feedback loop was needed between teachers and trainers.

Like many states, Utah was looking for a statewide data model and a decision-support system that could simultaneously assist individual district needs and foster the effective use of statewide data to improve assessment, resource utilization and classroom instruction. Because of the Legislature’s foresight back in 1990, Utah has 100% of its schools connected to the Internet backbone through the Utah Education Network (www.uen.org).
This wide area network provides an online pathway to and from classroom teachers throughout the state. With this infrastructure in place, Utah is achieving economies of scale in providing services to its districts and charter schools.

Adding to the services delivered over the network, Utah contracted with iAssessment, the provider of the decision-support architecture, to create the OnTrack online portal (http://us'e.iassessment.org). Initially, Utah created OnTrack to provide district education technology leaders with online survey results from teachers to help inform district decisions on what kinds of technology professional development were needed by each teacher.

OnTrack provides a centralized management system that unifies and integrates disparate databases and systems, as well as connects existing state-owned databases and computer systems. As a result, Utah now has a Web-based database of teacher-training programs and other resources that can be accessed from anywhere in the state. OnTrack also blends with many of the other decision-support needs of multiple district and statewide programs.

Tracking Technology Integration

For federal fiscal years 2002-2004, Utah targeted the roughly $3 million a year in Title II D federal funds to help its teachers in high-need schools become competent with technology integration. It was at this time that SETDA contracted with the Metiri Group to produce the PETI assessment in order to support state efforts to better understand where schools, districts and states are on the path to technology integration.

The comprehensive PETI surveys, which are being delivered to the Title II D
grant recipients through OnTrack, help Utah meet some of its goals such as state accountability and state quality teacher activities. OnTrack also helps the state track and document the progress of professional development outcomes by local districts, and then makes the results available to all districts in the state.

In addition, Utah is feeding the PETI data into OnTrack’s task management program. This allows grant administrators to make the surveys available online to the appropriate people quickly and easily. District and school administrators simply follow the instructions online to fill out the surveys without the need for training. The program allows administrators to cut and paste information gleaned from the surveys, as well as provides those compiling the observation and focus group documents from on-site reviews with a convenient place to print the required documents and enter the information online when they are finished. Automating these procedures saves a great deal of time and energy throughout the data procurement process.

Program administrators know that teachers are the biggest single factor of student academic achievement. Thus, initiatives such as PETI are best used as part of an overarching decision-support architecture to help find out about technology use in the classroom. Utah wants to ensure that its students grow
and improve academically. Fortunately, PETI assists in providing data that not only justifies current resources for technology, but also reinforces the need for continued support of technology to improve student achievement.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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