There is a lot of controversy out there about whether or not we should be even using standardized testing as the best means of understanding a student’s academic performance ability. I am not going to make an argument for or against it, but I will say that it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. So I’d like to tell school districts how they can better use the data that they receive from those standardized tests.
The answer is that we have to find a way to make that data become useful information. Often times schools collect this information but find it too overwhelming or costly to make use of. We cannot have administrators and principals making important decisions for our schools based solely on intuition.
Matrix is a web-based software program that acts as a data warehouse and student data analysis tool. With Matrix, school districts will be able to have all of a student’s information in one centralized location. Data from the district’s Student Information System (SIS) is integrated into Matrix right alongside the students’ assessment test scores, so that Matrix can make correlations between and generate reports for these two important data sets.
What does that mean?
Well the demographic information, like gender, ethnicity and meal-plan status from the SIS are correlated to assessment test scores for each student and then presented in an easy-to-read and -understand format for school officials to examine. This helps school officials look into factors that occur outside of the classroom, which may be playing a role in how well the student performs. For example, there may be a correlation between the students who receive free or reduced cost meals and their below average test scores. Of course there is a significant difference between correlation and causation, which must be kept in mind. Just because two things are correlated does not mean that one caused the other to occur, but on the other hand it doesn’t necessarily mean that it didn’t either. Matrix at least presents this sort of information to the school districts and gives them the ability to examine and understand teacher and student performance at a much deeper level.
Consider how a teacher may receive a really bad score (which is just the average of all of her students). Does this mean that the teacher should be let go? No, it means that more information needs to be taken into consideration.
Why did he or she get such a low score?
First of all, Matrix allows all aggregated values to be viewed by their raw components. This allows teachers to see which students are doing well and which are not.
Second, Matrix shows not only test scores, but also growth. Perhaps the teacher teaches a large number of academically failing students, but he or she gets a majority of them to improve their scores throughout the year. Even though the ending score is still not proficient, there was great progress made.
Third, Matrix was designed to accumulate data over a long period of time. This means that school officials can examine information for a teacher over the past several years that he or she has taught; the same goes for students. It is never wise to make critical decisions based on a one-time occurrence. Matrix shows when students or teachers consistently perform at a certain level.
Fourth, Matrix allows higher-up school officials to see which cohort of teachers produces the best students or the worst students. This may point out some key areas that are in need of improvement. This also presents school officials with the opportunity to inquire about the teaching methods of those teachers who seem to consistently performing well and then share those methods with the under performing teachers.
Lastly, Matrix presents all of this information in such an easy-to-read and easy-to-understand format that school districts wouldn’t need to waste money on hiring a data maven or training teachers how to use the product. Also reports can be easily generated and printed in order to share the information with other school officials and/or parents.
The bottom line is that if we ever hope to improve the education of our students we have to know what areas need help and what some of the reasons for that may be. Matrix assists in this process in a cost-efficient, easy and fast way. We know that schools are facing increasing budget cuts as well as increased pressure from the State to meet assessment standards and that is why we developed a tool for educators to use to start understanding where improvements need to be made. Matrix gets that conversation going.