Using Data Systems to Meet AYP: Vermont

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Data: The Great Uniter

Vermont educators come together to build a data warehouse that helps improve schools and student learning throughout the state.

While we have a vast amount of educational data in Vermont, it is often difficult to gain knowledge, much less wisdom, from all of the different sources and formats of data. Vermont has been conducting student assessments in math and literacy since 1997, collecting student demographic information and assigning unique student identifiers. And since the inception of the state assessment, educational leaders have been asking how best to use the data to improve student achievement.

During the 2002-2003 school year, local district leaders came together to look at tools that would empower educators to use the data to improve education. We discovered that what Vermont needed was a data warehouse with analysis tools to make it easy for a user to ask ad hoc questions of the data.

Supporting Data-Driven Decision-Making

In the summer and fall of 2003, 20 supervisory unions came together to form the Vermont Data Consortium (VDC; www.vermontdata.org). The common goal of the consortium was to deliver district-wide educational information, data analysis tools, and training for data-driven decision-making. A secondary goal of the consortium was to develop a network of professionals who were committed to that decision-making.

As we were about to start construction of our own data warehouse in November 2003, the commissioner of education proposed that the Vermont Department of Education (VTD'E) should form a partnership with the consortium to develop tools that would support the needs of both organizations. A formal partnership was established, and together we created a project team to lead the development and implementation of the data warehouse and the associated analysis tools.

Determining warehouse requirements. During 2004, the project team conducted a needs assessment to determine what was required to support data-driven decision-making in both organizations. The major requirements for the data warehouse were:

  • An off-the-shelf data warehouse with a flexible data model that would allow for the safe addition of objects, attributes, and reports. By safe, we mean that our modifications would maintain their integrity through software revisions and upgrades.
  • A well-designed metadata utility that would support a flexible data model with the ability to link to Vermont-specific data sets.
  • A user-friendly, feature-rich, graphical user interface (GUI) reporting and analysis tool that would allow all levels of educational users to access data through a rich predefined report suite, as well as support ad hoc queries to the data.
  • Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) compliance for all applications.
  • A train-the-trainer professional development program for VTD'E and VDC staff on technical aspects of using and managing the data warehouse to ensure long-term self-sufficiency in administering the warehouse, and a professional development program on how to use data to improve education.

Putting Vendors to the Test

The needs assessment formed the basis for a request for proposal (RFP). Seven companies responded to the RFP, and proposals were evaluated by a team that had six members from the VTD'E and six members from the VDC. This team included IT personnel from the state department and the field, a curriculum director, a school principal, and a teacher. The proposals were scored in the following areas:

  1. Experience and qualifications
  2. Technical solution
  3. Financial impact
  4. Ability to implement solution
  5. Professional development

From the scores, the top three proposals were invited to a presentation that was scored by a larger audience, and two vendors were selected from the evaluations. Those vendors were required to facilitate a 25-day hands-on trial period for the use of their software. During this assessment period, several different users were able to test the two products with demonstration data and by filling out an evaluation form. Also, during this phase of the evaluation, the project team assessed the management tools for each of the products.

The evaluation team came to a consensus-based on the evidence from the scoring of the three-phase evaluation-that TetraData (www.tetradata.com) of Greenville, SC, should be awarded the contract to develop a data warehouse for the VTD'E and the VDC.

Steps to Implementing a Successful Data Warehouse

The warehouse phases. The implementation of the data warehouse has been divided into two warehouse phases and two professional development phases. The first warehouse phase will create a statewide warehouse that is built on educational data residing at the VTD'E. This will include student demographic data and parademographics such as adequate yearly progress (AYP) information, student assessments, and educator data. During the second phase, the contractor and the project team will focus on building the district's data portion of the warehouse with two pilot supervisory unions. The data that will be loaded will be additional student and teacher demographic data, local assessment data, school and student program data, and local surveys.

The professional development phases. When the first phase of the warehouse is built and underway, the professional development program will begin with the contractor providing professional development to the consortium and the department. The plan is to coach one trainer for each of the member supervisory unions and 10 employees of the VTD'E in the technical aspects of maintaining the warehouse. Once a cadre of trainers is developed, the VDC personnel will support them as they train educators.

When the second phase of the warehouse is complete, the department and the consortium will be working with Education for the Future (http://eff.csuchico.edu/home), a nonprofit initiative located on the California State University, Chico campus that focuses on working with schools, districts, state departments of education, and other educational service centers and agencies on systemic change and comprehensive data analyses that lead to increased student learning, to train educational leaders on how to use data to improve their schools. This is a crucial part of the training for the use of the data warehouse.

The most important part of this project, however, is not the construction of the educational data warehouse, but the fact that a group of educators from both the state department and the field have come together to build a tool that will help improve schools and individual student learning through the use of data. Now, to ensure that this project is successful, it is essential that the leadership of both the department and the consortium help to instill a culture of using data to improve education throughout Vermont.

Bill Kimball is the program director for the Vermont Data Consortium and the technology director for Lamoille South Supervisory Union in Morrisville, VT. E-mail: bill.kimball@morrisville.org

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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