5 Ways to Improve the Data Integrity of Your School District
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 brought major reforms to the decades-old federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The legislation required that states adopt rigorous learning standards and disaggregate test scores by student ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, disability and English language proficiency. By drilling down into the data, problems among specific groups of students that had been hidden by aggregating test scores would be unmasked. Schools scrambled to meet the new testing and reporting requirements. A school’s federal funding depended on its ability to meet these new accountability requirements.
NCLB, and initiatives that followed such as the Race to the Top, emphasized data-based decision-making. Educators require good data to identify needs, set priorities, allocate resources and evaluate progress. End-of-year summative assessments are not enough. Educators need to measure student progress while students are still in the classroom. The need for timely, relevant data creates challenges for school administrators and school IT departments. Rapid developments in the field of educational technology threaten to make current systems obsolete. Technology Directors must compare the costs of maintaining legacy systems with the costs and benefits of upgrading to the latest technology.
Issues that affect data integrity
A district’s data system is always a work in progress as changing reporting requirements and technological advances create new needs. A piecemeal approach, modifying data systems as needs arise, results in systems with legacy programs lacking simple, intuitive interfaces. Data integrity is compromised when users, faced with older, complex systems, make data entry errors or, given time constraints, neglect to enter information altogether.
A U.S. Department of Education study on the implementation of data in schools found that most school districts operate several different systems to collect and store student information such as demographics, enrollment, schedules, scores, and attendance. Additional systems may be used for curriculum management, faculty communications and collaboration tools. Attempting to link data across these multiple systems in any meaningful way is difficult and may produce inconsistent results.
Combining old systems with new is a short-term solution to meeting a district’s data needs; however, to ensure accurate data entry, new employees must be trained in all systems, increasing onboarding time and costs. As each system will have its own formats and elements, errors in data collection increase as users must continually navigate multiple protocols. Additionally, the use of multiple systems makes it difficult to protect student privacy and secure data against cyber attacks. Districts can take several steps to improve data integrity.
1. Define essential questions
Any initiative to improve data quality must begin with the end in mind. All data collected must have a purpose. What questions need answering? What data is required to answer these questions? Rather than navigating multiple data sets to inform decisions, begin with the essential questions and tailor systems to collect, curate and produce reports that will clarify the direction a district needs to take to improve educational outcomes. This will provide a framework for developing standardized data collection and entry procedures.
2. Facilitate consistent and timely data collection and entry
Standardized definitions and formats are critical to data integrity. Imagine, for example, that one teacher marks as tardy a student who is a few seconds late for class, while another marks the student as on time. Data collected about student tardiness would not be useful. Similarly, information must be entered using standard formats — type of entry, field length parameters, etc. — to ensure consistency. District-wide protocols must be developed and training supplied to all users. Recognizing this, state and local education agencies have been working to develop data dictionaries to eradicate inconsistencies.
Additionally, users should input data contemporaneously — enter attendance at the start of class or record test scores soon after they are tabulated. Systems should facilitate this timely recording of information. A time lag between data collection and data entry increases instances of error.
3. Automate where possible
Advances in education technology have allowed for the automation of routine clerical tasks. Harnessing these technologies reduces instances of human error, and the time saving and user-friendly aspects of systems such as automated attendance prevent corruption of data by users who may be overwhelmed with reporting requirements. Automated systems also make data available in real-time, facilitating building management and security.
4. Consolidate Systems
Legacy systems require data to be pulled from different sources. Merging information to answer specific questions may result in different answers depending on how data is combined. Bringing data collection and storage together under a centralized system will bring consistency to the process, resulting in better data quality and definitive answers for policymakers seeking solutions. The ability to access attendance, curriculum, communication and other systems from a data hub gives administrators and IT professionals better control over the data and cloud-based data centers offer security, cost-effectiveness and off-site access.
5. Regular reviews to identify errors and clean data
Keeping data clean requires catching and correcting errors early so that corrupt data may be cleaned quickly and faulty collection processes adjusted. Issues with data can be caught with regular reviews of reports. An administration portal to the data systems will facilitate routine data checks. Data outliers and results that seem improbable may be investigated and data collection procedures modified before a database is filled with bad information.
Policies are most effective when enthusiastically supported by faculty, staff, students and parents. All stakeholders must have confidence in data quality before they can embrace data-based decisions. Advances in educational technology have streamlined the process of collecting and reporting information. Upgrading data systems to meet current standards will go a long way towards reducing incidents of missing, inaccurate and duplicated data that can corrupt a district’s information systems allowing users to have faith in the data’s integrity.
ScholarChip is an all-in-one, cost-effective solution to help reduce school threats and address the important issues surrounding school safety. Data from students, faculty, and stakeholder are leveraged to manage school access, attendance, and behavior management through the platform tools to increase safety and promote the campus climate schools are looking for.
To learn more about ScholarChip and how your school can benefit from smart card technology, please request a 1-on-1 strategy session to improve data integrity!