Innovative ‘Big Data’ web-based tool creates basis for individualized classroom instruction

Harvey Smith

Harvey Smith

No one wants to see school children become so frustrated that they give up on learning.

More individualized instruction could help, but customizing for the large numbers of students in today’s classrooms presents a challenge to teachers.

Now, an interactive, web-based program from NIU will assist teachers in addressing the learning needs of all children.

Researchers at NIU’s Illinois Interactive Report Card (IIRC) are rolling out a new service called Data for School Innovation or DSI. Utilizing massive data sets from virtually every type of standardized tests students take from elementary through high school, DSI can pinpoint specific issues in each child’s learning history, giving educators the data needed to identify the best approaches for building on strengths and correcting deficiencies.

DSI’s advisory committee of area educators identified needs and provided extensive feedback on the digital tool’s design.  It features colorful screens that display results from more than 15 different tests and provides teachers with easy-to-use tools for analysis.

In addition to the Illinois state assessments such as ISAT and PSAE, DSI posts results from AIMSweb, MAP, PLAN, Explore, and other tests.  The DSI website is password-protected with cutting-edge security to safeguard the privacy of all students.

A spin-off of NIU’s highly-successful IIRC site, DSI contracted with the Illinois State Board of Education to provide customized data services for 50 school districts in a state-wide pilot test of the new service.  An additional 60 districts are now subscribing to DSI services.

Early reviews from educators have been universally positive.

“Seeing the whole picture for each student allows teachers to build successful interventions,” said Amy Jo Clemens, regional superintendent at the Lee/Ogle Regional Office of Education.

“It’s a great example of using data to make a real difference in students’ lives.”

IIRC: Illinois Interactive Report Card logoHarvey Smith, director of the Illinois Interactive Report Card, said that outcome is exactly what project developers were hoping to achieve. “Principals and teachers made very clear that they need more effective ways to use data from state and national standardized tests,” Smith said.

“Test data comes in different formats, on different websites, or in binders that sit on shelves. DSI pulls data from local, state, and national tests into one location, allowing teachers to see a wide variety of performance results for each of their students in one place and one format.  In an age of data-driven decision-making, DSI helps educators to actually use the data,” he added.

DSI is available through the IIRC website. A resource for educators, parents, and policy-makers since 2002, IIRC averages more than 60,000 visitors per week, making it one of NIU’s most popular websites.

Using DSI, teachers are able to see up to six years of performance data for individuals and groups of students. Principals can track strengths and weaknesses in specific subject areas and identify which programs are successful and which need to be improved.

“Several years ago, we scrambled to locate and organize digital data from EPAS testing,” said Robert Knutson, assistant principal at Mt. Vernon Township High School. “The vastness of the data was overwhelming. DSI answered our data warehouse needs with timely access to data in a user-friendly format, as well as useful templates and fantastic support from the IIRC staff.”

Smith and the IIRC team began development of DSI in 2008 using strategic planning seed money provided by NIU to jump-start promising projects.  By 2012, DSI had attracted enough pilot subscribers to become financially viable without further university subsidies.

“We always hope that start-up projects like DSI will eventually be able to sustain themselves,” explained Marilyn Bellert of NIU’s P-20 Center. “With a highly entrepreneurial director like Harvey Smith and the talented innovators on the IIRC staff, DSI seemed like a good investment. Its immediate acceptance by educators in the field underscores the value of this type of investment.”

Educators seeking more information and subscription rates can visit the DSI site or contact Valerie Lorusso at vlorusso@niu.edu.

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