Conquering NCLB with Technology

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Everett Public Schools taps Cognos to meet state reporting requirements.

Clearly, the No Child Left Behind(NCLB) Act has left schools grapplingwith how to better monitorstudent performance, and at EverettPublic Schools, we were grappling, aswell. Everett is a Washington state publicschool district comprising more than 25schools serving over 18,000 students witha staff of more than 2,200 employees. Likemany other K-12 school districts, oursfaced the state regulatory mandate tosubmit,on a monthly basis, highly accurateNCLB data to the Office of Superintendentof Public Instruction’s Core StudentReporting System, the state of Washington’scentralized NCLB reporting system.

Enter: Business Intelligence (BI)

In light of this requirement, we choseCognos Business Intelligence solutions(www.cognos.com) to perform districtwideverification of critical NCLB data elements.In fall 2004, we deployed CognosPowerPlay across the district, enabling allschools and administrative offices toquickly and efficiently access NCLB verificationdata. With PowerPlay’s “zero footprint”Web application, there was no needfor our field staff to install software on theircomputers in order to access the data. Infact, administrators or staffers who are onour network and who have a Web browser,can get to the application as simply as theywould get to Yahoo! or Google.

Still, to ensure success from the start,we required that a Cognos specialist be onsite to assist in the installation, configuration,and deployment of the solution,which is connected to our district’sPentamation StudentPlus (www.pentamation.com) student management system.According to Ken Toyn, InformationSystems and Technology director forEverett, this was particularly beneficialin enabling faster and more uniformknowledge transfer between Cognos andEverett officials.

“We recognized from the start that thesuccess of this initiative hinged on Everettinheriting the system expertise from thevendor in as short a turnaround aspossible, in order to help control ongoingmaintenance costs and fine-tune the solutionto best meet our evolving reportingrequirements,” he said.

All-Important Training

Equally critical was end user training. Tolearn how to use the BI software, staff fromboth Information Systems and Technology(IS&T), and Curriculum and Assessmentsattended specialized courses that gave themthe necessary background to effectivelyprovide training to their end user community.A combination of formal trainingopportunities, follow-up workshops, andindividual sessions were employed to getthe end users familiarized with the products,as well as with the analytical objectivesdeveloped by IS&T.

This early workforce mobilizationappears to have paid off almost immediately.Our district officials are encouragedby the high skill level that the administratorsdemonstrated from the get-go. Andinstead of addressing the basics, workshopagendas were adjusted to focus on intermediateand advanced topics to furtherdevelop administrator and staff masteryof their BI software.

Impact

What impact has this had, thus far, on thebusiness side of our district operations?Although the student data maintained inour StudentPlus system was already invery good condition, the BI solutionrevealed some issues that were easilycorrected, resulting in more accurateinformation being reported to the Officeof Superintendent of Public Instruction.

As it stands now, our schools can seetheir student data in a whole new light.The ability to easily compare one demographicparameter versus a multitude ofother parameters—all on the same tableor graph—has been very enlighteningand invaluable to the district. As well, theability to cross-reference items andchange reporting elements on-the-fly hasdelivered even more functionality thanwas expected at the onset of the project.Our schools can now quite easily take avery broad look at many aspects of theirstudent data—including program andgrant data such as free and reduced lunchstatus, English as a Second Language, andTitle I—and then drill into the details atthe click of a mouse. Administrators andtheir support staff have a much more thoroughunderstanding of their student data,empowering them to confidently makemore informed decisions.

Today, our Information Systems andTechnology department’s staff continuesto develop valuable analytical cubes.These cubes analyze data that span thedistrict, including human resourcesdemographic data, budget data, humanresources employee attendance data, andstandardized assessments data. Not sosurprisingly, at Everett, the new catchphraseregarding data analysis is, “Let’scube it up and take a look.”

Going forward, our school district islooking to broaden its Business Intelligenceinitiatives with another of Cognos’performance management solutions,Cognos ReportNet. Everett sees thecombination of Cognos PowerPlay andCognos ReportNet as a real one-twopunch in delivering critical data analysisand reporting that will ultimately helpfacilitate decision-making, and improveperformance management across theentire district. These solutions areenabling us to gather data in order tobetter understand and meet the needs ofour students, and—importantly—meetthe requirements set out by NCLB.

Newel S. Rice is Operations and Developmentmanager at Everett Public Schools inthe state of Washington.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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