How Microsoft helped Tacoma teachers teach better (with data they already have)

Fri, 2015-11-13 06:00 -- Doug Peeples

At 55%, Tacoma's high school graduation rate was well below the national average of 81%. Fortunately, with help from Council Lead Partner Microsoft and its integrated IT solutions -- and the data available in existing school records, the graduation rate improved dramatically to hit 78% in 2014.

How data is making a difference
Tacoma Public Schools CIO Shaun Taylor explains what schools officials wanted to do and how they went about it. "We have so much data in the district, and we wanted to get better at analyzing trends of student success. By using predictive analytics, we thought we would be able to intervene earlier and work closely with those at-risk students. Then we would be able to reach our ultimate goal: getting that graduation number closer to 100 percent."

The district worked with Microsoft Consulting Services to create a cloud-based data warehouse that contains student grades, attendance, health records and other related information. The data is available to school staff in Excel workbooks that chart important benchmarks for the district such as math and reading standards, graduation rates, the school environment and how well students are prepared after they leave high school..

The data warehouse solution gives teachers and administrators numerous ways to look at the data down to the classroom level. For 2015-2016 the district wants to use it to assess incoming fifth graders to find out if they need intervention in math or reading.

Taylor is happy with the results. "More than anything, the combination of new visionary leadership with sophisticated data analytics is helping drive improvement in graduation rates."

The benefits of less paperwork
Centralizing student data offers more than learning outcomes and higher graduation rates. The English Montreal School Board was unhappy with the inefficiency of its paper-based recordkeeping. The board, working with Microsoft, its software and services for startups program BizSpark and its partner emAPP, put together the Hall Monitor mobile app. The app gives teachers and staff the ability to look at student data with a mobile device -- anywhere on the campus.

The time savings are substantial, said Assistant Director of Student Services Julie René de Cotret. "Our professionals save up to five hours a week because they spend less time traveling to get information and filling out forms." The result? Teachers and staff can spend more time with students.

From that success, the Montreal board and the Microsoft partner created another app to make collection information more efficient and centralize data for students with special needs which -- again -- gives teachers and staff more time with their students.

Related articles:
Dissecting ISO 37120: Why education may be the most important smart city indicator of all
Smart cities need smart schools: See how technology is making it happen
Beyond brick and mortar: Is your city prepped for the future of education?

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.