District 834 wins federal funding for new program

With the recent focus on accountability and standards in public education, teachers and administrators are producing more student data than ever before. But school officials are realizing that instructional data is only as good as an educator’s ability to sort through it, understand it and analyze it in a way that will work to improve student performance.

A new program developed by a consortium of 14 area school districts and the Central Minnesota Educational Research and Development Council (cmERDC) seeks to ensure that student data is actually being put to good use. The Minnesota Department of Education recently awarded the Educational Research and Development Council an Enhancing Education Through Technology grant that will enable Stillwater Public Schools and its consortium partners to commence with the program they helped create.

The program, called Data Driven Success, will help the district integrate “data-driven decision-making” techniques that have been necessitated in part by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Data Driven Success was devised by the 14-disctrict consortium and cmERDC to help school officials effectively apply the volumes of student testing data already at their disposal.

During the program, English teachers, math teachers and school administrators from the Stillwater district will get training in data-driven decision making techniques, emphasizing standardized data management and analysis intended to help school officials communicate academic performance concerns to students, parents and other stakeholders within the community.

The federal technology grant, administered by the Minnesota Department of Education, provides $298,000 to the program in addition to in-kind contributions from the Bloomington-based Sagebrush Corporation, which markets data analysis software to public and private schools.

Other districts that will receive funding from the grant (as members of the cmERDC-led consortium) are Anoka-Hennepin, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, Mankato, Melrose, Milaca, Minneapolis, Paynesville, Rocori, St. Michael-Albertville, St. Paul, South Washington County, Watertown-Mayer and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley. In addition, six Twin Cities’ area private schools will also receive funding. They are Marantha Christian Academy, Minnehaha Academy, San Miguel Middle School, St. Helena Catholic School, St. Mark’s Catholic School and Guadalupe Alternative School.

In all, the consortium represents roughly 171,000 students and 14,000 teachers - approximately 20 percent of Minnesota’s K-12 population.

Although the program is partly a response to the No Child Left Behind Act, data-driven decision-making can be applied far beyond such reporting requirements, according to Jan Brunell, cmERDC’s data warehouse project manager. In fact, Brunell said it is crucial to the cusses of public education.

“Not only will data-driven decision-making techniques improve quality and curriculum, they will serve as a vehicle for sharing best practices between different school districts, promote parental involvement in the education process, enhance dialogue within the field of education and improve the communication of educational issues to the greater community,” she said.

The Data Driven Success program is good not only for participating districts, but also for the communities they serve, according to cmERDC executive director Peter Eigen. “In addition to helping teachers and administrators make sense of all the testing data being generated by No Child Left Behind, the program will help the district take full advantage of its existing technology resources.

“No Child Left Behind demands that districts use their budgets wisely, and this program is a means to that end. It’s a way to ensure efficient, effective use of the school’s technology budget,” Eigen said. “And that’s a tangible benefit to local taxpayers.”

Mary Mehsikomer, a senior planner for the Minnesota Department of Education’s State Library Services and School Technology department, said the program was selected for funding partly for its potential in helping educators identify best practices for the use of data as a decision-making tool for schools. “The program offers a great opportunity for teachers and administrators to learn more about the use of student data to help design effective curriculum and instruction that increases student achievement,” Mehsikomer said.

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