Database System Helps Keep Everyone Informed in Rural Vermont School District
Tracking the progress of individual students and finding ways to improve their educational experience are constant challenges for all schools. But in rural Vermont, the distance between schools can compound the problem of quick and effective communications. At Addison Northwest Supervisory Union, an educational management system built on FileMaker Pro database software helps keep everyone informed. By using the database, teachers stay close to the performance of students, while administrators keep an eye on progress toward school, district and statewide achievement goals.
In the past, teachers used a paper-based system that worked well for individual teachers, but posed a problem when it came time to analyze the data on a districtwide basis. When we built the database, FileMaker Pro let us design the user interface so it mirrored the paper-based system that was familiar to our teachers. This greatly smoothed teacher adoption and allowed us to quickly begin tracking results. With all data now housed in a central location, we are able to deliver different strata of data based on the unique needs of each group. For example:
- Administrators prefer to analyze data from district to district within the state or from school to school within a district.
- Principals prefer to analyze data from classroom to classroom within a grade.
- Teachers prefer to analyze data from student to student within a class.
- Parents prefer to analyze data from child to other children (within one school or across the district).
The system is designed to work first at the classroom level — to keep the focus on getting information in the hands of the teacher — where it will have the most impact on educating children. Teachers can print reports from the database at any time, which helps them identify groups of children who may need similar kinds of attention. This ability to print reports also lets teachers tailor their lessons in order to have the most efficiency in the classroom and the most impact on each child.
Providing Online Access
The entire system is housed on a Citrix server, so despite the distance, teachers and administrators can access the data remotely over the Internet. This is important in a region where most of the outlining area is rural farmland. Within this district, we have three elementary schools, one high school and one administration building serving a population of 1,300 students spread across five towns: Addison, Ferrisburg, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham. Again, our database was designed to reflect the use model already in place with the teachers. In this case, teachers were accustomed to taking paperwork home; however, we made it so they can now access the same forms over the Internet. In the future, we will add Internet access for parents as well. So even if they live in remote, rural settings, parents still will be able to view the progress of their child at any time throughout the year.
We also will be correlating information in the database with actual report cards. When report cards are tied into the database, parents will be able to not only see how their child is performing at any time, but they will also be able to compare their child's performance to other students in the same class or district. Naturally, we will modify the language on the report cards to be more parent-friendly since some of the terms in the profiles are designed for professional educators, and may be nonintuitive to many parents.
Educating on a Local Level
The Addison school district has established its own profiles for local achievement by grade and subject. We believe that if we stay on track with the local profiles, we will also stay on track with many of the standardized tests at the state and national levels. As the system exists now, it has tremendous utility to analyze and chart education progress on many levels. Since all the data exists in a central database, we can quickly export from FileMaker Pro directly to Excel spreadsheets. We can then chart and graph the progress from one year to the next or compare the achievement on standardized tests to local educational profile objectives. In the event that we find discrepancies among the comparisons of local and standardized test results, we can adjust our educational emphasis accordingly.
The database is designed to accommodate fields for as many as 90 separate objectives for each area of the curriculum. For instance, in the area of reading, we can compare results for reading strategy, reading comprehension, writing dimensions, writing conventions, language receptivity and expression, as well as knowledge and engagement. In its entirety, the system consists of nine relational databases with more than 64,000 records.
Teaching the Teachers
Since the look and feel of the database maps intuitively to the paper-based system that teachers have already used, training affords us the opportunity to educate not so much on how to use the database, but on how to evaluate students' expertise. This is particularly helpful in areas like literacy, which can be less objective than testing students' mathematical abilities. Along with evaluation criteria, we have produced a handbook to augment the system.
Spreading the Word
As our system became more successful with parents, teachers and administrations in the district, word quickly spread to other districts in the area. Several of these local school districts are now starting to roll out their own student management systems based on our database. Addison charges for the software and for a small portion of my time consulting to the other districts in order to recoup some of the costs from my efforts developing the system.
Four years ago, this system began as a way to track educational progress for the Addison school district. Now, it is helping teachers, parents and administrators find new ways to collaborate in order to improve the education of students not only in this district, but also throughout our region of Vermont.
— Bob Owens, Ed Tech Coordinator, Addison Northwest Supervisory Union
This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.