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Leveraging KM tools for public schools

organizations improve the way they function,” he says.

For example, business activity monitoring lets organizations send out notices based on predefined rules. “These do not have to be catastrophic events,” says Garimella, “but just routine announcements like new classes or social events that can be driven through event notification.” In these days of accountability, Garimella adds, being able to document procedures is essential.

No data left behind

One key aspect of accountability in education is the assessment needed to implement the No Child Left Behind mandate, which requires that each child in the public school system reach a specified level of proficiency in academic subjects, including language arts, math, science and social studies. Schools must have assessments and statistical analyses to determine whether the standards of learning (SOLs) are being met. Some school systems are also working on developing predictive models that will attempt to determine what factors affect achievement on the tests, with an eye toward intervention for those who are likely to fail.

Under a grant from the Department of Education, several educational consulting firms have been working with schools in five states to develop predictive models for student performance. Reveal Technologies and Analytic Focus partnered with SPSS, a provider of statistical and analytical solutions, to develop and test software for those models.

“We wanted to put wet paint on these students’ feet,” says Lee Ross, VP of Reveal Technologies, “so we could see where they were headed.” Developing such models entails collection and analysis not only of assessment data, but also of data that could impact performance. That data includes a wide range of potential factors, such as socio-economic status, teacher experience and classroom materials.

Student performance data is collected throughout the year, with baseline data obtained at the beginning of each school year, interim data during the year and achievement measures at the end of the year. Because of the amount of data collection required, having an efficient and versatile software product is essential. Using Dimensions, an SPSS survey and assessment tool, one school district was able to streamline its assessment process dramatically, according to SPSS.

“In our early adopter school district, we delivered final exams in seven courses in two high schools in 2006,” says Leo Bohman, VP of application development at SPSS. “Within minutes, the scoring sheets were scanned and we had test results with item analyses about how well each question had been answered.”

Many school systems find that they do not have all the data they need to carry out the desired correlations and other statistical tests. The SPSS Dimensions product can be used in a portal to allow the school system to add new data into its analyses. That capability lets the school system modify its data collection strategy over time. For example, if access to the Internet is considered important, a survey can be conducted to capture that information. The fact that a new textbook was introduced into the classroom could become another data point.

With assessment data and other data gathered into a warehouse, the analytical capabilities offered by SPSS’ Clementine will be used to develop performance models based on data mining. “Clementine has interesting features that make it easy to use,” says Ross, “including algorithms for decision trees and a graphical interface.” Many solutions are available for the
assessment component, but lack the flexibility of a predictive business intelligence tool.

SPSS says it offers innovative approaches to modeling. “Sometimes traditional multivariate analyses make assumptions in their models that do not carry over into real-world settings,” Bohman says, “including the assumption that all the variables are independent.” During 2007, the SPSS suite is being enhanced to include simulation models that use the likelihood of certain events occurring to predict a distribution of outcomes, rather than an absolute result.

Documenting records

Like most other organizations, local school districts are subject to numerous compliance requirements, yet they often must work within a very limited budget. The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union (SVSU, svsu.org) consists of five elementary schools, two secondary schools and a regional technical center. Some of the records for which SVSU is responsible must be maintained for a set number of years, and some must be kept indefinitely. In past years, SVSU struggled with managing stacks of stored paper, including student and personnel records, test scores, information on purchases of computer hardware and software, and minutes of board meetings.

SVSU began considering a variety of options for storing and retrieving its records electronically, and selected Questys Pro, an imaging and document management solution from Questys Solutions. Attracted by its low cost, ease of maintenance and simple operation, SVSU deployed Questys Pro and scanned in all of its documents.

“It worked really well with the equipment we had,” says Marcia Noyes, systems administrator at SVSU. “Since we also OCR the information, we can easily do searches.” In addition, electronic “sticky notes” can be attached to documents including those that are handwritten, to aid in locating information.

SVSU is now able to ensure that its document retention schedule complies with regulations, and can respond easily to audit requests. In addition, the search function enables SVSU to find any document it needs during its daily operations. As a next step, SVSU plans to deploy Questys Pro to its financial department, where it will be used to store invoices, statements and other financial information. “Our auditors wanted to go paperless,” says Noyes, “and this system will let us achieve that goal.”
“Small to midsize businesses were dramatically underserved by the early imaging and document management systems,” says Andre Pavlovic, president of Questys Solutions. “Our products provide affordable solutions for organizations that do not have the resources to buy and maintain expensive, complex systems.” Its products provide revision control, check-in/check-out functionality and workflow.

“The vast majority of student records need to be kept for a very long time, if not indefinitely,” continues Pavlovic, “yet most school systems are not in a position to manage these documents easily.” Many organizations are also still paper-based, and therefore must be prepared to scan their documents if they want to be able to access them quickly and easily.

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