ESSA placed a new emphasis on data-driven decision-making, forcing educators in many states to rethink and even replace their record-keeping protocols.

The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) reframed the way that public schools in the United States are held accountable by the federal government. Unlike its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, ESSA looks beyond standardized test scores by evaluating student progress with a diverse set of school performance indicators.

But while ESSA promises to make district evaluations fairer and more balanced, it also brings its share of new challenges — especially for Ohio schools, which are required to enter critical data into complex education management information systems (EMIS).

Less than a year has elapsed since ESSA fully went into effect, and many school districts are still operating with a piecemeal view of their critical datasets. State assessment scores often live in one system, student enrollment data in another, and student attendance records in a third, and there’s never any guarantee that each of these systems will be able to “talk” to the others.

This lack of interoperability doesn’t just get in the way of efficient ESSA reporting, however — it also risks turning educators against data-driven decision-making entirely. When a teacher is forced to input the same data multiple times or cycle through multiple systems to input different types of data in different places, it makes the work far more difficult and creates plenty of opportunities for error.

Luckily, Georgia and Nebraska have already blazed a trail towards better reporting processes that Ohio can follow. School authorities in these states recognized these potential issues years ago, and they have centralized their data reporting systems in a way that can serve as an example for districts struggling to adapt to the new demands of the ESSA era.

From the Pits to Just Peachy

Under the guidance of Department of Education CIO Bob Swiggum, the State of Georgia implemented its Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) — colloquially known as “the tunnel” — in 2010.

According to Data Quality Campaign President and CEO Aimee Guidera, “[Swiggum is] focused on making sure he can get the right data to the right people at the right time in the right format.” The whole process starts with helping teachers gather, organize, and analyze data at every step of the educational journey.

The SLDS Teacher Dashboard User Guide suggests that educators can and should use the data management system for practically any important student-related process. That includes pre-planning, before parent-teacher conferences, when crafting student contracts, during unit and lesson planning, and while delivering student interventions and/or making accommodations for individuals students’ needs.

If used properly, the tunnel helps teachers do everything from identifying a pupil’s academic strengths and weaknesses to creating targeted differentiation cohorts and groups.

Turning the Corn-er

In Nebraska, a November 2016 Report to the Governor and Legislature laid out a similar vision for improving access to digital learning resources throughout the Cornhusker State. As Nebraska Board of Education CIO Dean R. Folkers pointed out, the state’s public school system was spending nearly $100 million every year on educational software licenses and staff, “including over 650,000 [paid] hours…submitting data for reporting purposes.”

The state’s Shared Systems and Supports project is designed to improve the efficiency of EMIS operations across the state and ensure that every district has easy, equitable access to state data systems regardless of its size or location. Among other things, the project aims to deliver “targeted and coordinated professional development,” enhance the “security and privacy of student information,” and reduce annual per-student costs by between $100 and $300.

Following the Model

In states like Ohio — where State Auditor Dave Yost has called EMIS “archaic” and “a mess” — educators are in desperate need of a systems overhaul much like those in Georgia and Nebraska.

Fortunately, with the help of a tool like Vinson’s CheckPoint EMIS platform, this overhaul doesn’t have to be so daunting. CheckPoint helps educators manage their EMIS reporting through a simple three-step process: (1) it automates a district’s data processing; (2) it executes thorough data validation processes to ensure that the figures reported accurately reflect a district’s reality; and (3) it maintains a comprehensive audit trail that tracks which records have been verified by which district stakeholders.

Like Georgia’s SLDS and Nebraska’s Shared Systems and Supports, CheckPoint ensures that data is a help — not a hindrance — to the teachers and administrators who need it to empower their students.