Have you ever thought about all the data being collected about students on a daily basis?
Parents are asked for updates when an address or phone number changes, but behind the scenes a massive quantity of data is being collected throughout the year in support of each child’s education. The demands are constantly expanding. From demographics and grades to enrollment and attendance; targeted interventions for special needs, like language development services and Independent Educational Plans, to medical requirements, and more; it all needs to be collected and kept accurate.
Many school districts are simply trying to keep up with all these requirements from the federal government and state. Now add a layer. Santa Clara County offers several services targeted to students, including child welfare services, which help foster youth, incarcerated minors and many more.
As chief technology officer of the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE), my Technology Services Branch assists the county’s 32 school districts with a variety of technology-related services. But a pair of initiatives we’re working on now has the potential to be a model for how public agencies cooperate together to streamline and improve the delivery of important services to students.
Many people assume county offices of education already hold the data for all of their school districts, but that’s not the case. Each district is responsible for managing its own data and usually runs its own student information system (SIS), often at significant costs. Meanwhile, outside public agencies have their own systems to track data, much of which is the exact same being collected by multiple other agencies and school districts.
Not only is the cost of managing all this redundant data significant, but as technology-savvy Silicon Valley folks recognize, those systems are “data islands,” never in sync with each other. Public agencies have to use exhaustive processes to repeatedly contact individual schools trying to update information on a student they’re trying to find or to help. School districts seldom have the manpower to keep agencies up to date on changes, and they often have their own challenges making sure every new student receives the proper services.
We’re now in the process of creating a data warehouse to securely aggregate and maintain data from all districts, countywide. Our data warehouse initiative, DataZone, is being designed as a safe and secure repository to collect data from districts that want to combine forces and use tools and services at a greatly reduced cost. DataZone provides predictive analytics to spot trends and identify students requiring intervention, as well as generate dashboards and reports that get users to the important information that needs to be seen and understood quickly.
Our second initiative, FosterVision, is a unique system designed to more readily share data about foster youth with all those public agencies, at no cost to school districts. With the advent of the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), school district funding is directly tied to identifying and providing services to certain students, including foster youth. More than ever before districts need to be sure data on these students is accurate. FosterVision will be available to help match up data and ensure it’s current for everyone.
Developing systems like these is challenging. It would have been done a long time ago if it were easy. The SCCOE—several years ago, before the days of the Tech Services Branch or CTO—contracted with a vendor to build a foster youth data system. Metro and San Jose Inside recently highlighted the costly failed project. However, several circumstances have changed since those days, and we now have opportunity to finally get this right.
We’re extremely excited about the possibilities for the future. We hope Santa Clara County can serve as a model to others for the effective use and management of student data.
Dr. Kelly J. Calhoun is the chief technology officer and assistant superintendent for the Santa Clara County Office of Education. She wrote this column for San Jose Inside.