Through a new data-sharing partnership with local nonprofits, Kansas City Public Schools are positioning students for greater economic mobility and long-term success.

Accurate data collection, reporting, and interpretation are playing an increasingly critical role in education. The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, for example, introduced new performance assessment metrics that require schools across the country to collect and report more data on students than ever before.

What’s more, accurate data collection and reporting has become an important mechanism with which to ensure every student has the greatest opportunity to succeed. Today, reliable data on student attendance and academic performance can be leveraged to improve preventative interventions for at-risk children and help curb rates of chronic absenteeism.

As a greater number of districts recognize the value of deploying data at every touchpoint in the educational process, a variety of stakeholders are refining their data protocols and introducing new initiatives that will better position educators to reap the benefits of advanced data use.

Recently, Kansas City Public Schools became the first district in the nation to join a new data-sharing initiative financed by the Ballmer Group, a nonprofit organization focused on increasing economic mobility for children and families with a high risk of remaining under the poverty line.

How Data-Sharing Can Augment Academic and Personal Development

After implementing Apricot 360, a software solution originally developed to help nonprofits improve the delivery of their services, Kansas City Public Schools and local nonprofit organizations gained the ability to seamlessly exchange critical student data. Insights concerning specific students — including reading levels, grades, and attendance records — can now be harnessed to create customized education plans, which may include anything from one-on-one tutoring in problem areas to mental healthcare interventions.

For example, through the partnership, participating organizations might learn that a student has recently lost a family member, which could account for an uptick in absences or disruptive classroom behavior. In response, the student’s school would be able to craft a tailored program that better supports their academic and personal development.

However, schools are not the only stakeholders poised to benefit from the partnership. In fact, according to Melissa Zarb-Cousin, the Chief of Staff at an organization that’s participating in a similar Ballmer Group-backed data-sharing partnership in San Antonio, accurate results reporting “is critical in social services.” By gaining access to school districts’ data pools, local education-focused nonprofit organizations will be able to more accurately assess both their systemic and student-level impact.

Like Zarb-Cousin’s organization, a number of nonprofit groups already have working relationships with school districts in their area, but these partnerships tend to rely solely on manual reporting. Automating the process will not only increase procedural efficiency, but will also provide new capabilities for early risk identification.

“Today, there isn’t anything like this…that will surface an alert to someone in the system that maybe this particular participant in their program could benefit from additional services in that particular organization, or maybe even services outside of their organization,” says Alexis Zotalis, Director of Education Solutions at Social Solutions, Apricot 360’s developer.

Beyond creating tailored programs for students and improving the effectiveness of resource deployment at nonprofit organizations, the initiative’s ultimate goal is to kickstart a paradigmatic shift in education that will place a greater emphasis on students’ long-term success and wellbeing instead of short-term measures of academic performance.

Addressing the Risks of Data-Sharing

Though the potential for creating more comprehensive support systems for students through meaningful collaboration is promising, data-sharing initiatives do present certain risks.

Cybersecurity concerns are top-of-mind for many skeptics of data-sharing. Such concerns are not entirely unfounded: a 2017 Verizon report found that, in 2016, the education sector suffered 455 cybersecurity incidents, as a result of which it had more data stolen over the course of the year than any sector save healthcare. The high rate of cybercrime directed at the education sector is believed to stem from the fact that children may be viewed as ideal targets for identity theft due to their lack of credit history.

While most of these hacks were not directly linked to data-sharing, the practice of data-sharing may elevate schools’ risk. Last September, the FBI released a PSA detailing a series of breaches of third-party edtech firms that had access to student data. The incidents put great volumes of sensitive data at risk, including students’ personally identifiable information and biometric details.

While cybercriminals can pose a real threat to the integrity of student data, by putting the proper security systems and protocols in place, school districts can feel confident in safely expanding their use of data.

In fact, Ballmer Group Co-founder and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer believes partnerships like the one in Kansas City will actually serve to “connect the dots and protect privacy at the same time” by providing more security touchpoints.

Taking Advantage of Data-Sharing Opportunities in Ohio Schools

To follow Kansas City’s lead and drive better student outcomes through meaningful data-sharing partnerships, Ohio school districts must first secure the requisite resources to upgrade their data — and collaborative — infrastructures.

However, since both state and federal funding depends on the quality of districts’ data reporting, it’s critical for school districts to have systems in place for verifying that their enrollment records are always accurate and up-to-date. Even minor miscalculations can hamper a district’s ability to receive all the funding to which it’s entitled, ultimately limiting its students’ opportunities to thrive.

This is where Vinson’s CheckPoint EMIS Platform comes into play. With advanced auditing capabilities and a data validation tool, CheckPoint streamlines data collection, organization, verification, and submission. By increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of all the steps in the data-reporting process, district administrators can rest assured that they will obtain every last penny for which they’re eligible.

With sufficient resources, every Ohio school district can — and should — strive to establish partnerships throughout its community that promote better outcomes for each and every student.