Data analytics for school leaders: 7 things to consider

So it's come time for your school to select a solution for data analytics. You may have been in the market for a while, or you could be on a journey of discovery to better understand the impact the pandemic has had on your learners.

Either way there are some critical questions that you should be considering when evaluating data analytics services. I've listed them here.

Bespoke, or off-the-shelf?

The decision to build your own analytics solution is more than just a test of the current capabilities of your team - it's peering into the future of the solution and your school's evolving requirements as well.

Are you prepared to continue to fund its development indefinitely so that as needs, software and staff change, you're not stuck with something which cannot change?

Who is the user?

Really getting to the bottom of who will use the solution and what they'll do with it is crucial work and will help you make a more critical evaluation of the software and services on offer.

Traditionally, analytics dashboards were aimed at analysts who would interpret and report on data. These days, analytics can more directly service teachers, parents, and students, but planning for how (often), where and why they'll need the data, as well as training overhead will go a long way towards getting a return on your investment.

It's also crucial to consider how your school community will access these dashboards. Will they need another username and password? Or can you integrate them into a portal or systems that your community are already using?

What are we trying to analyse?

The answer to this question can vary significantly from school to school. For secondary schools, this might be NAPLAN results, ACER PAT (Progressive Achievement Test) results, VCAA On-Demand for Victorian schools, teacher judgements/assessments, or any number of other data types.

For primary schools, this is more likely to include things like Fountas and Pinnell testing, single word spelling tests, Soundwaves, and other tools more commonly used in years 0 through to 6.

Different tools provide different capabilities for different schools, but all should be capable of key functionalities - like generating Guttman charts, identifying the zone of proximal development, and providing simple learner profiles for students. Make sure the tools you are considering are capable of working with all the data types you need.

Data without purpose is just an overhead.

Analytics dashboards can look very cool, but if all they ever tell you is what you already know (albeit, in a prettier way), then they'll soon lose their impact. Analytics in schools has traditionally focused on what's known as 'lagging' indicators, which are summative in nature. The best example of this would be semester-based reporting... while seeing these results visualised, particularly over time can be instructive, the information is retrospective in nature and cannot be changed.

The opposite to a lagging indicator is a leading indicator, which is formative and potentially predictive in nature. When looking at analytics providers, ask about the work they're doing to bring more leading indicators into daily practice.

Collated vs. correlated

Being able to connect to different data sources is less an issue than it once was, so most analytics solutions will now connect with the data sources you want. More important is finding how the solution integrates that data into an existing data model.

Pulling lots of data into one dashboard is great, but this still relies on the end-user to make sense of what all that data means. Check the extent to which the solution takes that next step in offering valid insights based on correlations and patterns in that connected data.

How secure is our data?

In a cloud-native world, it is critical to understand the technology behind those pretty dashboards. In Australia (and many other countries) there are strict requirements with regards to where data is stored, who has access it, and how it is accessed. 

Safer Technologies 4 Schools is a standardised approach to evaluating digital products supported by numerous state governments, Catholic dioceses, and Independent Schools Australia. To pass the ST4S assessment, software vendors must prove that they are following best practices for data security, and provide documentation on the frameworks and policies that back up data security.

For Australian schools, be sure to ask:

  • Has the solution you're investigating passed the ST4S assessment?
  • Where is our data stored? Is it ever accessed by anyone overseas?
  • Is the support team based in Australia?

Have an assessment matrix ready to evaluate products

Have a spreadsheet or a similar tool ready so that you can take notes, and have a list of questions prepared to ask vendors during demonstrations. We've prepared a Google Sheet that you are welcome to use - feel free to make a copy and add columns / rows / requirements as you see fit.

Data analytics for school leaders is often a task shoved in the "too hard" basket. Having considered these points, you're in a good place to assess the various solutions for data analytics in schools.

We'd love to chat further with you about our Intellischool Analytics solutions - get in touch through this link here to book a free, no-obligation demonstration.

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