Automated Data Entry System BringsSchools &Communities Together

What makes one student stay in school and one drop out? If there is a behavior problem, what disciplinary actions should be taken? Are school leaders doing their jobs? Which teaching strategies are most effective? Is the grading system fair? These are just a few of the questions educators are faced with daily. The answers are critical if schools are to provide students with a quality education. But obtaining timely, accurate answers can be a challenge. In Ontario schools, as in many parts of the world, information-based decision making has come of age. Educational issues such as accountability, quality assurance and school profiles dominate the landscape. In an effort to make informed decisions, boards of education are constantly gathering information from parents, staff and students about curriculum, student attitudes, and evaluation techniques regarding a host of issues. The research department for the Durham Board of Education supports 60,000 students in 113 schools. The schools routinely conduct surveys to gather information about a wide variety of school-related issues. For an average K-8 school of 500 students, the thought of conducting a 25-item survey can be overwhelming. Such a survey returned by 400 families can yield 10,000 item responses to enter, analyze and report. To enhance its ability to quickly design and interpret community surveys, the Board invested in a fully integrated, automated data entry and statistical analysis system. The Survey Process The research department receives requests from schools on a daily basis seeking assistance in survey design, construction and analysis. Much like customer satisfaction surveys in business, schools need to administer surveys to gauge the concerns and needs of students, parents and teachers. Survey research allows schools to open a dialogue with these audiences. Survey topics include student attitudes, literacy assessments, teaching practices, violence and drugs, and safety issues. The process begins with designing the survey. Teleform, a Windows-based, automated forms processing program, allows us to quickly design a survey to meet virtually any set of specifications a school provides. Page layout and design tools enable us to easily place text, graphics, artwork and data fields onto a form. Additionally, the form builder supports standard, legal, half-page, custom size and multi-page layouts in both landscape and portrait formats. When a school requests a survey, a research analyst briefly assesses their needs, then designs a form to collect the information. Each form is personalized with logos and graphics using Corel Draw. Within hours the form is designed. Teleform also supports hand print (Intelligent Character Recognition, ICR), typed text (OCR) and marks (OMR). These features are important to the Durham Board of Education because they help us avoid rewriting survey items to fit pre-printed forms and permits multiple scale and questionnaire formats. The software also has the capability to automatically read in data and export verified information into a statistical processing program called SPSS. Schools are able to take stock and set goals and objectives based on solid information. Prior to the use of Teleform, surveys were administered using pre-printed forms. This imposed obvious design limitations and produced unwanted costs having to keeping blank survey templates on hand. Now, once we produce a form and give it to the school, they make duplicates on a standard photocopier, eliminating the need to stock blank survey templates. The savings are very attractive. Once the surveys are created, they are "activated" by the software and assigned a specific and unique character symbol that identifies that form to Teleform. The software uses this form ID to distinguish between multiple forms and other faxed or scanned-in documents. Forms are then printed, copied and distributed to the school. Completed surveys are returned to the research department for processing. A Bell &Howell Copy Scan II Scanner is used to quickly scan--about 1,800 surveys per hour--verify and export the data into an SPSS database where, within minutes, the responses are descriptively analyzed and graphically represented. Durham schools are amazed by the wealth of data they receive. With the availability of organized research, the schools are able to take stock and set goals and objectives based on solid information. Principals and staff are now well aware of perceptions and understanding of school issues and programs. Decisions on school growth plans are no longer made with merely good intentions--they are substantiated by timely surveys. Teleform is a very useful diagnostic tool that has produced some rather unexpected results. The Durham Board of Education has yet to conduct a survey -- and we've done lots of them -- where we haven't had exceptionally strong positive support from the community. It's a nice validation for our teachers and schools.


This article originally appeared in the 11/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.