Oregon’s Eugene School District 4J is leveraging data to improve student outcomes by helping its educators provide tailored support to students at risk.
While accurate, comprehensive data is a key component of creating a data-driven educational culture, school districts often make the mistake of assuming it’s the only key component. That’s why, time and time again, we hear district stakeholders lamenting that they are “data rich but information poor,” accustomed to recording data but at a loss when it comes to uncovering actionable insights.
Eugene School District 4J (“4J” for short) was dealing with precisely this problem before partnering with Hoonuit. A K-12 public school district located in and around Eugene, Oregon, 4J serves over 16,000 students in 20 elementary schools, eight middle schools, four traditional high schools, one alternative high school program, and five charter schools.
Prior to implementing Hoonuit, the district had recently started using a data warehouse to supplement its comprehensive student information system, but it still didn’t have a tool that would “summarize and slice and dice the data as easily as we would have liked,” as Information Services Manager Garry McCready puts it.
To push its data-driven decision-making to the next level, 4J not only turned to Hoonuit, but brought in data dashboard development officer Seth Plunkett to help the district’s newly revitalized data initiatives get off the ground. We spoke with Plunkett, McCready, and Director of Research and Planning Oscar Loureiro about the challenges, opportunities, and successes 4J has seen thus far in its data journey.
4J has two primary goals for its Hoonuit rollout, one immediate and one long-term. The former, says Plunkett, “is for people to have access to data and really use it.” For Plunkett and his team, data accessibility is a necessary precursor to action. “If people in the field don’t know what’s happening, they can’t react to it,” he points out.
That’s why, more than anything else, the district wanted to make its data easily accessible to all stakeholders. “Our thinking is that all decision-makers will use data if it’s readily available and in user-friendly form,” Loureiro explains. “From the teacher who wants to see how their class is performing to the counselor or school psychologist who wants to look into the wellbeing of individual students, our goal is to facilitate everyone’s use of data.”
Once data is made accessible to all decision-makers, “the ultimate goal is to equip everyone in the district with the skills and tools they need to make decisions that improve outcomes,” Plunkett adds. He believes Hoonuit’s intuitive, user-friendly data dashboards will empower educators at both the district and school level to better identify students who are at risk and provide them with the support they need, helping drive more significant, more consistent improvements to student outcomes.
McCready believes the district is already well on its way to achieving this goal. “You can tell by the questions people are asking — principals, in particular — that they’re really starting to dig into and interact with the data. I’m really excited to see this growth and curiosity continue to progress.”
In order to provide decision-makers with better, more actionable data-driven insights, 4J has created custom metrics tailored to the specific data points that district leaders have found most consistently indicate student success. “There’s a clear connection between attendance, student performance, and graduation, so we’ve put a lot of time into making sure our attendance data is rigorous,” Plunkett says. “Attendance is our first ‘big thing’ to watch out for.”
That’s why the district carefully tracks attendance data and alerts stakeholders when a student misses several days of school in a row, enabling educators to take quicker, more effective action when a student may be at risk. Additionally, the district has created custom metrics for state testing, which Plunkett explains is the second-most effective indicator of a student’s graduation readiness.
Moving forward, the district plans to continue compiling all its data into customized Hoonuit dashboards. Plunkett highlights behavioral data and HR data as two areas that the district is angling to tackle next. “The Holy Grail is being able to see all your data in one place,” he concludes. “That’s where we hope to get.”
*This post was edited on April 22, 2019