Student records, Karen Apricot, flickr

Julie Parks: Education data—A powerful tool to connect with kids in trouble

To understand the real ways that teachers are benefiting from  education data tools, the Ed-Fi Alliance  & the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation have begun a series of interviews with educators in the field.  The third interview is with Julie Parks.

The daughter of a school principal who’s always viewed education as her calling, Julie worked as a classroom teacher for 25-plus years. She’s now a special education counselor for the Lubbock, TX Independent School District. Rather than being embedded at any single campus, she travels from location to location, working at Lubbock ISD’s disciplinary alternative education program campuses as well as with homebound, medically fragile students and students who have been sent to juvenile justice programs.Julie is a frequent user of StudentGPS dashboards.

Pattern recognition: Education data show where kids fell off track, and points to ways to help them get back on

The students I work with are a very specialized population. My goal when I’m working with them is to help alleviate whatever pressure they’ve experienced that’s caused them to “fall off the mountain.” When I’m assigned a student, I immediately go in to the education data dashboard and get a lot of the information I need. The data often show patterns of change that help me know where to begin with these kids. It helps me jump start a conversation that helps the student to move forward.

Most of the time when I meet with kids, they’re very open and honest. But sometimes, the kids themselves don’t realize the effect of one specific event. For instance, for many of my students: life was good, life was good, life was good. Then a parent died. I’ve also had students who made a huge error in judgment, and who have then gone to jail for six or eight weeks. They generally do fine with school in jail, because they don’t really have a choice. They have to do the work. But then they come out, and fitting back in to regular school is hard. Other times it’ll be as simple as, “I got to middle school, and I couldn’t find my space with a group of students.’ There’s a big transition from elementary to middle school. It can knock a child off track.

If I don’t feel like I’m getting the whole story from a student, I can also use the data on calls with parents. Looking at the dashboard, I can say, “I’ve noticed your child has struggled with x or y. Is there something that, as a school district, we can do to help you out?” Many times parents are willing to tell you that they need something. And if parents can’t remember or are unsure about what happened when, it’s really easy for me to look at the data and remind them.

The student view & individual plans for individual needs

Several times, I’ve let students look at data for the entire year on one screen. Especially for the older students, that view can be really helpful, because they can see times when they missed a whole bunch of credits. Actually seeing those gaps starts a lot of conversations, because a student can look and say, “Oh, that was when…,” and it’ll be something very specific that kept them from coming to school. I’ve also had students in my office who just wanted to see how they were doing. When that happens, I can pull the dashboard up and actually show them. And that’s a powerful thing for students. It gives them some confidence that they’re moving forward.

The most important thing, of course, is using the data to help these kids. That happens when I work with teachers to write individual education plans. Writing those plans can be a daunting, and the more information we have, the easier it is. With the dashboard, everything is where we need it: The testing information, the course information, the grades, the discipline reports. We pull it up, discuss it and make really informed decisions about how we’re going to help each child move forward.

Read the first and second posts in the series: 

  1. Stacey Hensley: Education data makes a tough job easier
  2. Kim Holmes: Education data opens the door of creativity