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Education World Talks With

Principals Who Cant Live Without Technology


Part 4: Databases Track Student Achievement, Suggest Improvements

When Bonita Henderson is asked about her favorite technology tool, she doesnt mention her Palm or her Razr or her Bluetooth. She doesnt have to think twice about her favorite technology innovation: a software program that tracks student attendance, disciplinary infractions, bus incidents, and other pieces of student-related information in schools across the Cincinnati district.

I am lost without this software, Henderson admitted. I really freak out when it is down.

As an assistant principal, this database/tracking software enables Henderson to look back at a students history to the year 2000. I can see dates and infractions tied to behavior problems. I can see if the child is a special-needs student. I can tell if the child is having problems with a particular staff member or in a particular area of the school -- for example, the hallway, restroom, classroom, or cafeteria. I can tell if the child has no behavioral reports. If the student transferred within our district, all information from the previous school is reported in this system. I can even tell if the child came from a school outside of the district

Report Cards
From Home

There are so many technology tools that improve instruction, increase task efficiency, or just plain make life easier -- so many that it is difficult for principal Nita High to name a favorite. But her schools Web-based report card is one.

In the past, we have had report cards that are computer-based, but they were a bit awkward to use and could not be accessed at home, High told Education World. This year, however, we have a new report card that teachers can access and complete at home. The new report card displays a grade for each subject area, and it also addresses the states instructional standards at each grade level. That makes for a rather lengthy report card, but being able to work on them at home or at school makes the task much more manageable.

All that information helps me make decisions about intervention measures, concluded Henderson.

Many districts have databases such as the one Henderson uses. And many of those databases include students academic information and test results. In Alabama, for example, a statewide database system can be used to track student history. We enter students grades into the systems report card feature, explained Principal Teri Stokes of Weatherly Elementary School in Huntsville. We also enter progress reports, attendance and tardy information, immunizations, and discipline reports. School demographic and staff information are also available via this database. All state reports, and even some local reports, can be pulled off -- and printed out from -- the system.

In addition, when students move, we can migrate student test information from one school to another. Plus the system includes a lesson plan feature and several other components.

A system such as this one is a very productive tool, added Stokes. While I dont enjoy using this database, it saves countless hours that used to be involved in generating reports by hand. I think all teachers would agree that it speeds up the process and makes data more presentable and credible.

In Landrum, South Carolina, principals and teachers have come to rely on a software package they used to create a database of students standardized test scores. Nita High, principal of Landrums O.P. Earle Elementary School, says she and her staff can use the system to access a students state test and MAP [Measure of Academic Progress, based on scores on the Stanford 9 test] scores.

We can access scores by class, grade, ethnicity, gender, teacher, and so forth, said High. Reports can display several years of data, and the program also generates charts and graphs that compare data over time.

Online Grades
Improve Home-School

Having online access to grades and other information is the technology that most excites principal Charlemeine Zemelko of Chicagos International Charter School. Keeping grades online helps improve communication between school and home.

Keeping grades online helps us deliver progress reports to parents every three weeks, said Zemelko. Attendance is taken online too, which enables every teacher to know if students are sick, suspended, or just late for class. And all lesson plans are typed into an online template that can be emailed to me.

This software helps with long-range planning and it helps students and staff understand where they are and what goals they need to set for the school year, added High, and it is easily accessible and helpful when it is time to write a school strategic plan or apply for Blue Ribbon or other award programs.

Principal Nina Newlins staff at Rock Hall (Maryland) Middle School has used a data management tool for several years. It is a central repository for student data and provides quick access to contact information for students, information on special health concerns or accommodations, student grades with complete assignment listings, and student test scores, Newlin told Education World. The district is also modifying it to track disciplinary information, so eventually it will really be our one-stop-shop for student data.

It is also a great communication tool between our school and parents, added Newlin. It enables teachers to track parent contacts, and any parent can sign up to have Web access to his or her child's grades. When a parent clicks on a grade, a list of all assignments and scores earned pops up. There is also a link a parent can use to e-mail a teacher for further information.

It is a valuable tool for students to use to track their own progress too, said Newlin, adding, It is a tool for which I find more and more uses each year. I really can't imagine being without it.

Joseph D'Amato, principal at DePew (New York) Middle School, agrees. In this age of standards and accountability, the tool I rely on the most would be our web-based data warehouse, he told Education World.

His district uses two different programs. For those of us who need the big picture, and the ability to sort data into many different groupings -- years, gender, race, standards, performance indicators, and so on -- our local BOCES (Board Of Cooperative Educational Services) uses a program that is very thorough. It provides multiple views and has some very tidy canned reports. We can compare our building to our county or state. Data can also be extracted into Excel for further manipulation.

Teachers in DAmatos district use a different program that enables them to look at data associated with a specific exam or school-wide trends. One of the best features is that each test question can be seen for instant analysis, and it has links to other lessons and questions that touch on the same standard and indicator, he explained.

In an age of data, tools such as these make data access and use so much simpler, he added.

Jack Noles agrees that tracking programs are one of the best technology innovations to come along. We are now able to utilize mountains of data to make instructional decisions in a timely and efficient manner, said Noles. What once took hours upon hours of spreadsheet manipulation, copying, and e-mailing now takes a few minutes to provide finger-tip access to the most up-to-date and relevant data.

His districts data system has made a tremendous difference, concluded Noles. All teachers have easy access to the data, so they can spend more time planning lessons instead of working through the numbers. The system also provides charts and graphs to meet many needs.

Of course, the critical beneficiaries of this technology are our students, added Noles.

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  • Using Technology to Improve Instruction, Boost Achievement

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  • Save Time, Increase Efficiency With Calendar Tools
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