Testing the Limits of One-Stop Data Access


PennsylvaniaThe School District of Philadelphia relies on its comprehensive technology solution to make informed teaching decisions.

Under Deputy Secretary ofEducation Michael Golden’s leadership,Pennsylvania has madegreat strides over the last two years developinguseful informational tools to assistthe Commonwealth’s many schooldistricts. While the School District ofPhiladelphia, along with the otherdistricts, has worked collaboratively withthe Commonwealth in this undertaking,Philadelphia has pursued its own aggressiveagenda to provide its 13,000 teachersand principals with much-needed classroominformational resources. Both entitiesare optimistic that those parallel effortswill pay off for all Pennsylvania children.

The School District of Philadelphiaemployed SchoolNet (www.schoolnet.com) in mid-2002 to provide acentralized database of curriculum,learningresources, assessments, and analyses thatcould be developed in conjunction with thedistrict’s new No Child Left Behind (NCLB)achievement plan. The NCLB Act has leftschool districts with no time for wishfulpondering; thus, sound, data-driven decision-making is now required if schoolswant to retain federal funding. Fortunately,SchoolNet’s Web-based instructionalmanagement system (IMS) has providedPhiladelphia teachers and administratorswith unprecedented access to usefulstudent information that is required tomake informed teaching decisions.

With more than 200,000 students in273 schools and a budget of $1.7 billion,the School District of Philadelphia hasmuch at stake. Since he joined the district in2002, CEO Paul Vallas has set forth anaggressive reform agenda that includesunifying curriculum, instruction, andassessment. Therefore, a core componentof the district’s plan has been a comprehensivetechnology solution which providesadministrators and teachers with one-stop access to timely student demographic andassessment data that is linked to thedistrict’s core standards-based curriculum.

IMS Opens the Door to Real-Time Assessment, Adaptation

A critical component of Philadelphia’s corecurriculum plan is the focus on benchmarktesting and six-week instruction/enrichmentcycles, a program which has demonstratedeffectiveness in meeting NCLB’sgoals. The new curriculum calls for six weekunits consisting of five weeks ofteaching, and concluding with an assessmentor benchmark test that emulatesPennsylvania’s standardized testing.Through the IMS process, administratorsand teachers (soon, all teachers) haveimmediate access to test results and caninstantly evaluate student achievement andinstructional methods. With this information,decisions can be made to utilize thesixth week of the curriculum cycle witheither enrichment or remediation activitiesas dictated by student performance.

The IMS effectively eliminates the lagtime in existing standardized test andresponse cycles from entire school semestersto hours, if not minutes. So if a benchmarktest is delivered on Friday, instructionalchanges can be in place by Monday.This is as close to real-time assessment andadaptation as many educators have seen.Teachers can now discuss student performancealmost immediately, while the informationand experience is still fresh in thestudents’ minds. They can also organizetheir classes according to remediationneeds, and create differentiated learningprograms that raise all students up—notjust those with the greatest need. Othersignificant features of Philadelphia’s IMS(phila.schoolnet.com/outreach) include:

Meaningful analytics. The administratordashboard is a district-wide dataanalysis and reporting tool that givesPhiladelphia school administrators thepower to drill down to get the most meaningfulanalytics (by student group, school,or individual student), using a variety offilters that provide deeper and moreinsightful data views. The result is thepower to identify strengths and weaknessesin student performance midstream, soadministrators can act decisively to makecurriculum modifications, target supplementalservices and special programs, andapply professional development programswhere they are needed most.

“The IMS effectively eliminates the lag time in existing standardized test and response cycles from entire schoolsemesters to hours, if not minutes.”

Individualized instruction. Theteacher dashboard is the core tool for accessto standards-based curriculum andinstructional resources. It allows teachersto view differentiated student performancedata and to plan individualized instruction,including academic standards, pacingcalendars, lesson plans, and curriculummaterials. So, for the first time, teachers canview up-to-date student performance data,as well as determine which students needremediation and which would benefit frommore advanced instruction. They can alsodraw upon online curriculum resourcesto address specific needs.

Item analysis. Benchmark testing isprovided by The Princeton Review andKaplan. Here, item analysis allowsteachers to identify where groups ofstudents, even individual students, arefalling behind. The item analysis also helpsdetermine the efficacy of questions as wellas the institutional needs for professionaldevelopment or curriculum enhancement.

Parent access. Within Philadelphia’sIMS is a Web-based communication andcollaboration tool that will give studentsand families access to student informationand individualized instructional resources.Parent access to their child’s informationwill begin this fall with the goal of increasedparental involvement and an even strongercommunity inside our schools.

Sky’s the Limit for Instructional Support Tool

Staff/faculty training. Providing theappropriate professional development toteachers, principals, and administratorswas a key factor in the successful rollout andadoption of the IMS. Principal teams fromall schools and several central office administratorsreceived two days of trainingduring the 2004-2005 school year. One daywas spent learning how to navigate thesystem and retrieve reports, the seconddiscovering how to analyze and make decisionsbased upon the data presented.

During the Principals’ Academy lastsummer, all of the district’s principalsparticipated in a half-day IMS workshopto review key functionality and learnabout upcoming features. Additionally,“cohort” teams were created, providingselect staff with the tools and educationnecessary to conduct turnaround trainingto teachers within their schools.

Performance results. Since its inceptionin 2002, Philadelphia’s IMS, alongwith the district’s comprehensive NCLBinitiative, has yielded numerous results.The most telling results are in the areas ofefficiency and performance. IMS has:

  • reduced the time required to placestudent performance data into thehands of teachers and principals
  • reduced the effort required by educatorsto collate information and conductanalysis on student results
  • reduced the impact of student transfersby providing immediate access tostudent profiles
  • contributed to nearly tripling the numberof schools attaining adequate yearlyprogress (AYP) goals,from 58 to 160
  • helped increase district reading scores6.1 percentage points (from 27.5percent to 33.6 percent), and mathscores seven percentage points (from21.6 percent to 28.6 percent), foradvanced/proficient students

Everyone involved at the SchoolDistrict of Philadelphia is very excitedabout what has been achieved within sucha short time span using the new instructionalsupport tool. Fortunately, we thinkthis is just the tip of the iceberg, withendless possibilities for the future.

Patricia RenzulliPatricia Renzulli is CIO for the SchoolDistrict of Philadelphia.

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