Mission-Minded: Alaska District Acts on Data to Help Students Succeed

Anchorage School District uses new data dashboards to track how well it's doing at fulfilling its mission of helping all students succeed.

by / November 22, 2016 0
With four new dashboards, Anchorage School District is tracking how well it's doing at helping all students succeed. Screenshot of an Anchorage School District data dashboard.

Success for all students. It sounds like a simple mission, really, but it's not always easy to carry out, especially when school district leaders don't have easy access to the data that shows how they're doing with different student groups. Without seeing that data, they can't take action to find different ways to help these students succeed. 

Until this month, Anchorage School District in Alaska found itself in that situation. 

"We've always had the data, but it hasn't been compiled in a readily accessible format," said Tam Agosti-Gisler, Anchorage School Board president. "So most people gave up." 

That's where Andrew Chlup came in. The director of application programming and support came up with an idea to create dashboards with both public and private views that would track academic results, behavior, graduation progress and attendance. 

Users could filter the aggregate data from this year and previous years by school, type of school, term, student risk level, gender, ethnicity, grade level and program as long as more than 10 students are in each group. They could also export the report, share the filtered dashboard with others or embed it in a Web page. For geographic reference, users could view a color-coded OpenStreet Map of schools with their overall status too.  

Chlup helped prototype and pitch the idea to the school board, and his applications team developed the four dashboards in interactive data visualization software Tableau along with the data back end. 

"They are phenomenal people who are working in the tech industry to better education, and I just love it," said Deena Paramo, the district's new superintendent who came on board in July. 

The school board now has easy access to data they can use to identify areas that need improvement and figure out what their students need. Overall, students look like they're making good progress. But when they filtered the results by subgroups, they found that some groups of students including Alaska natives, blacks, special education and children in transition/homeless students are not doing as well in some areas. This analysis prompted the district to create working groups to figure out how to help these types of students. 

It's also forced the district to evaluate whether the reasons they think students aren't doing well actually match up to what students themselves say. In the case of F grades, teachers missed the mark, Paramo said. 

And it holds them accountable to community members, who participated in a November meeting that showed them what they could do with the dashboards. So far, the academic status dashboard has more than 6,500 views.

"We own this," Paramo said. "This is ours. And you have to know it to grow it. And we need to know the areas that we are not meeting the mark."

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.