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VOL. 131 | NO. 182 | Monday, September 12, 2016

New Data Tracking System Will Save Memphis Educators Hours Every Week, Officials Say

LAURA FAITH KEBEDE, Chalkbeat Tennessee/Special to The Daily News

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The system for sharing student data with educators in Tennessee’s largest school district has been laborsome and time-intensive at best, but that’s about to change.

Shelby County Schools has begun trainings with team leaders from each school as part of this year’s rollout of a new database system called Ed-Fi.

Hamilton High School librarian Myron Hewitt trains to use Shelby County Schools' new time-saving student data tracking system called Ed-Fi. 

(Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat)

“Our teachers have never had access to this kind of data before (all in one place),” said Jessica Lotz, the district’s director of research and performance management. “We have this firehose of data in the ed world, but this system makes it more useable and focused.”

Previously, if a teacher wanted to pull a student’s attendance records to look at the impact on academics, a request was required through the school’s front office. If a teacher wanted to arrange for more individualized instruction in groups, he or she had to review the data of each student on the class roster to determine area of need.

Ed-Fi makes such information just a few clicks away.

A free national open-source system, Ed-Fi pulls from several state, district and school-level databanks so that staff can quickly access comprehensive information about any student needing intervention. Those include test scores, attendance records, discipline history and special designations such as special needs and English language learners.

Consultants hired through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are holding Ed-Fi trainings for school leaders through Sept. 30.

Leaders say Ed-Fi has the potential to save teachers’ several hours of work every week, while also providing crucial data needed by educators to make daily decisions in the classroom.

Librarian Myron Hewitt said the ability to aggregate data on groups of students will be especially helpful in his role as a test coordinator at Hamilton High School.

Previously, when planning testing accommodations for students with disabilities or language learners, Hewitt had to gather rosters from each teacher and check student files. With Ed-Fi, he’ll be able to log on and quickly find a list of students who qualify for testing assistance.

“Everything’s in one spot and you don’t have to search old emails,” Hewitt said during a recent training. “It’s just instant.”

"Our teachers have never had access to this kind of data before (all in one place)."Jessica Lotz, Shelby County Schools

The database will enable Magita McKinney, a professional learning community coach at Balmoral-Ridgeway Elementary School, to easily make a list of students in need of after-school tutoring programs funded with the federal dollars she oversees. And once the information is uploaded by the district, she can see the list of her school’s teachers who are qualified to take part. Before, she had to log in to several systems to get the information.

“This makes it a lot easier with one login,” McKinney said. “I can create a dynamic student list and there’s my roster.”

The district also can tailor the program to categorize student progress based on the district’s academic goals. Part of that system has been adapted to a specialized “early warning system” to spot potential high school dropouts so teachers and administration can quickly intervene.

Shelby County Schools is inviting employees to suggest other features to add to Ed-Fi’s dashboard.

Ed-Fi technology was developed and licensed by the nonprofit Ed-Fi Alliance, based in Austin, Texas.

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Laura Faith Kebede on September 6, 2016. As a service to our readers, The Daily News occasionally publishes stories from Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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