Data | Research

K-12 Student Data and Learning Management Systems Miss the Mark

Teachers and administrators both cited technical issues and a culture of mistrust as factors hindering more effective use of school data systems, including learning management systems and student information systems.

Most teachers are unsure about how best to incorporate data from their student information systems and learning management systems into their classroom practices, according a new report released Friday. Among the top issues cited as hindrances by teachers were technical issues and poor training.

The report, "Education Community Attitudes Toward SIS/LMS Solutions," was based on surveys and focus group sessions involving 1,726 respondents, including 1,010 teachers and 716 administrators and technology leaders at the school and district level. It was conducted and prepared by market research firm Gartner for the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). Funding was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The researchers found that about half of teachers were satisfied with their LMS and SIS, the vast majority of them were not using these tools--especially their student information systems--in ways that have an impact on teaching and learning.

Teacher Satisfaction: SIS
Slightly less than half--46 percent--reported that they're satisfied on the whole with the SIS currently deployed at their institutions. When broken down, however, the responses showed drastic underutilization of these tools.

Fifty-one percent of teachers said they use their SIS for tracking student progress. But only 29 percent said their SIS lets them spend more time on teaching and less time on administrative tasks. Only 23 percent said data from their SIS helps them prepare classroom activities. And only 23 percent indicated they think they're getting the most value possible out of their SIS.

Just 29 percent agreed that learning how to do new things on their student information system was intuitive.

Ten factors were cited by more than half of the teachers surveyed as barriers to increased use of student information systems.

The top 5 barriers cited included:

  1. The student information system doesn't solve important classroom problems, cited by 71 percent of teacher respondents as a minor (31 percent) or major (40 percent) barrier;
  2. Weak "professional development content" (70 percent);
  3. Lack of shortcuts and repetitive steps to generate reports (70 percent);
  4. The implementation is too "one size fits all" (66 percent); and
  5. Too few students with Internet access outside of school (64 percent).

Additional barriers can be found in the complete report.

Teacher Satisfaction: LMS
On the LMS side, exactly half of the teacher respondents indicated they were satisfied with their school's learning management system. Broken down, teacher attitudes toward their LMS were much more positive than their attitudes toward their SIS.

Nearly two-thirds--62 percent--said the LMS in their school helps teachers be more effective. Fifty-five percent said it helps teachers save time, and 50 percent said it helps increase student achievement.

Only 34 percent said the LMS helps stimulate student creativity, but 43 percent said their LMS helps teachers be more creative. Another 46 percent said their LMS increases parent involvement, and 47 percent said it increases student motivation.

Forty-nine percent of teachers said their LMS helps them customize instruction for individual students.

There were nine factors cited by teachers as barriers to increased use of learning management systems. The top 5 included:

  1. Repetitive tasks with no shortcuts (cited by 65 percent of respondents);
  2. Weak "professional development content" (64 percent);
  3. Too few students with Internet access outside of school (63 percent);
  4. The LMS doesn't solve important classroom problems (63 percent); and
  5. Lack of training (59 percent).

Teachers were also asked to rate some of the characteristics of the LMS installed at their school in terms of how well their systems perform. The most poorly rated of those characteristics included:

  • Tracking student attendance, with 91 percent of teachers giving their current system a negative rating in that regard;
  • Managing grades (89 percent negative);
  • Parent access to grades (88 percent negative);
  • Parent access to student progress (86 negative);
  • Generating student performance reports (86 negative);
  • Speed of entering and retrieving data (83 percent negative);
  • Adequacy as a tool for both teachers and students (81 percent negative); and
  • Ease of use (79 percent negative).

Seventy-seven percent of teachers also indicated their LMS did a poor job of "creating an educational community between students, parents and teachers," and 70 percent indicated that their LMS is poor at letting teachers "focus on teaching instead of administrative tasks."

Administrator Attitudes: A Disconnect?
As with teachers, school and district leaders reported that their student information systems and learning management systems were, to a large degree, failing to meet their needs.

School leaders were less satisfied with both types of systems than the teachers who responded to the survey. Only 35 percent of school leaders indicated they were satisfied with their current SIS, 47 percent with their LMS. At the district level, 47 percent said they were satisfied with their SIS, and 57 percent indicated they were satisfied with their district's LMS.

The report also found that school and district leaders, as well as teachers, think the current culture in education "presents barriers to increase usage and ultimately student learning."

In the survey, 24 percent of teachers reported their SIS makes them feel like they're being monitored, while 33 percent said their LMS makes them feel monitored. Another 21 percent of teachers said they only use student information system because they are forced to use it, and 25 percent said the same of their LMS.

Related to this, district and school leaders, as well as teachers, agreed that "the current educational climate and culture breeds feelings of mistrust and a focus on content rather than teaching and learning."

The report also found a significant disconnect between administrators and teachers over training. While teachers expressed clear dissatisfaction with the training and professional development available to them, "district and school leaders report that a wide variety of training is available to encourage the use of data and integrate the results of this data into classroom practice," according to the report.

The survey found a widespread perception among school and district leaders about the availability and effectiveness of training resources that was not reflected in sentiments expressed by teachers.

About three-quarters or more of both groups cited the availability of the following training resources:

  • "Instructor-led training on data interpretation and usage" (cited by 86 percent of district leaders but only 73 percent of school leaders);
  • "Instructional support to help teachers use data to support their specific needs" (85 percent district leaders, 77 percent school leaders);
  • "Instructor-led training used to gauge student performance" (84 percent district, 81 percent school);
  • "Instructor-led training on the specifics of the solution" (76 percent both); and
  • "Peer-to-peer collaboration" (80 percent district, 75 percent school).

There was also something of a disconnect between leaders a the school level and those at the district level.

Forty-six percent of school leaders cited facilitation of individualized learning as the top benefit of student information systems and learning management systems, followed by increased data access and increased collaboration at 11 percent each.

At the district level, the top benefit cited was increased data access (25 percent), followed by focused resources/efforts at 22 percent and increased collaboration at 12 percent.

Additional FIndings, Recommendations
Other findings from the report included:

  • Among survey participants, 28 percent of district leaders and school leaders reported being dissatisfied with their LMS' support for state reporting requirements;
  • Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of teachers use their SIS daily, but only 36 percent use their LMS that frequently;
  • But the average hours per week were lower for SIS users--4.95 hours on average versus 5.88 spent in the LMS;
  • While 95 percent of respondents reported having a student information system installed in their school or district, only 50 percent reported having an LMS deployed;
  • Most (79 percent) student information systems have been in place for two or more years, with 43 percent more than five years old;
  • Respondents indicated that nearly half (48 percent) of the LMSes in use at their institutions have been in place between two and five years.

The report's authors recommended revising training programs for teachers, in particular addressing "actionable methods for translating data from SIS/LMS solutions into classroom practices and lessons" and "shortcuts and tips that decrease the time needed to enter and extract data."

Other recommendations included:

  • When adopting a new system, develop requirements that include tools that provide easy access to data with fewer clicks, such as dashboards;
  • Develop policies that "clearly communicate the value of collected data and the importance of using the data consistently across states and districts to positively impact student learning";
  • Work with professional development providers to ensure that training includes a focus on translating data into action at the classroom level;
  • For teachers, initiate discussions with peers through professional learning networks and "aggressively seek training (formal and collaborative) on their respective SIS/LMS solutions"; and
  • For vendors, enhance tools to address the weaknesses outlined in the report.

The report was the first in a planned series of five publications focused on SIS and LMS in K-12 education. The full report, executive summary, definitions, and methodology can be accessed without charge on the Closing the Gap: Turning Data into Information site. A direct download of the complete report in PDF form is also freely available.