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5 Simple and Free Ways to Improve Data Quality in K-12 School Districts

June 20, 2023 at 9:56 AM

Collecting, tracking and analyzing school district data on students and staff is not an easy task, but there are fairly simple, low cost or no cost ways to try making it easier – and result in much greater data accuracy in the process.

In many ways, improving data quality and accuracy is a mindset.

Relationships: Great improvement in school data management has been found in building relationships, a higher end goal because how people feel about their jobs greatly influences their productivity and their willingness to take ownership of things – like accurate, clean data entry. Relationship building is crucial not only across the district, but with external peers.

Many school district Data Validation experts report that when they keep lines of communication open, and reward competition amongst data management and input specialists, an increase in pride for getting the job done right the first time is a sure result.

Training: Arguably the best way to improve data quality is training. The user has got to know what the options are and what they need to do, and why; whether it is book learning or attending conferences and webinars, or reading notices made available by the Department of Education.

When attending user group meetings, do not sit at the same table with all your coworkers from the home district. Network and talk with people from other districts, even from other states.  Share your woes because in many cases they will have unexpected answers for you, which might even be better help than any keynote speaker or a presenter will provide, because your peers will have lived it, they have gone through it already.

Review: checking and reviewing any forms and processes is key. For example, a review of online enrollment forms helps ensure the district is asking parents for the right data. And check to see if the drop downs listed in your enrollment match the data points your state is looking for, or at least match whatever Student Information System (SIS) your district is using.

In one example, there are too many cases where only a name field is listed, and that’s it. If a parent throws first, middle and last name in there, then there’s no delineation of the fields to show all the variations between such names. A review of such situations is vital, and that is just one tiny example.

Staff recognition: Let’s be honest. Office staff is often the lowest paid and least trained in K12 school districts, but they are typically the ones doing the extremely important data entry. Maybe the simple fact of telling them they are the most important employee to assuring the district gets all the funding it possible can is a direct result of their work is what will give them an increased sense of pride of a job well done.

Make sure they have clearly defined roles and responsibilities: It’s critical for the data input staff to have stewardship and ownership of the data management process. Additionally, a clerical worker in one school should not be made to feel like an island. There should be good communication and conversations with people like them in other schools. The Cicero (IL) Public Schools experienced a huge increase in data quality and state submissions accuracy after the team began communicating in brief weekly meetings each Tuesday.

Rewards: A little competition is always a good thing. Reviewing which schools/staff has the lowest submission errors…seeing it, acknowledging it, rewarding it are all options. Such rewards or acknowledgment increases accountability and keeps errors out in the first place. It’s not necessarily punishing the people not doing the job right, but extra acknowledgements for those who are doing it correctly goes a long way.

Clean and Accurate Data

Directly supporting these steps discussed so far is Level Data, Inc. in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Level Data works full circle with individual school districts to collaboratively run a Process Workshop to identify the good uses of data collection in place, and tactics that need improvement.

Level Data also sets the national standard in clean and accurate data for PowerSchool and Skyward Student Information Systems (SIS) with a computer software called State Data Validation Suite (SDVS).

SDVS is custom designed to integrate the specific credentials required from any district’s respective state. All student data entry into PowerSchool or Skyward by any district user is instantaneously and in real time software-reviewed for accuracy and shows color indicators of red, yellow and green – which are displayed when the system automatically and promptly detects data input errors, potential data errors or the correct data, respectively, per color.

Tish Brandt of Cicero Public Schools said the easy-to-use color coding is a life saver for tracking accurate and clean data. She was pleasantly surprised as well by the free ‘professional development’ that comes along with running Level Data’s SDVS.

“Our staff loves the utilities of how the plug-in works, and they like that it tells them the rules about why this (or that) is an error,” she said. “They like reading that because it’s helped boost their knowledge and understanding of what that data is and means, which reduces errors in the first place with their better overall understanding of why data is entered.”

Tom Lang
Written by Tom Lang

Tom Lang has spent more than 3 decades in the field of journalism and marketing, while always having a hand in public education. His father was a school teacher, his mom a school secretary, and his wife teaches high school English and Humanities. On his own, Tom worked his way through college as a school bus driver and today remains closely tied to education as a Board member of FIRST (Robotics) in Michigan. He has worked with high school coaches and athletes for nearly 30 years as a freelance sports writer at the Detroit Free Press, and for more than 10 years as a basketball referee. Bottom line -- help kids grow, learn and create productive futures.

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