Data Rich but Decision Making Poor? School Information System Essentials


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You may be sitting on a pile of data – could be very useful data if only it was a.) easy to retrieve, b.) accurate and reliable, c.) searchable in a variety of ways and d.) quickly formatted into customized reports. If you have this situation with multiple and/or redundant systems (in many formats – paper, microform, CDs, electronic, etc.), you rely on paper as your backup, and/or your system is over 5 years old, then you know it is time for a new school information system (SIS).

According to Dr. Betty Weycker, Assistant Superintendent for Technology, North Carolina Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System (2013), the goal of a SIS is to have a “unified information infrastructure” that houses data (quantitative and qualitative), is searchable, can generate various reports including charts and graphs, and can have specific administrative roles for principals, teachers, other professionals, and parents.  Most importantly, a well-integrated SIS reduces cost and assists tremendously in making decisions.

Making the Transition

Making the transition from disparate data systems to a unified system is not complicated, but takes planning. You will need to:

  1. Establish a team including representatives of administration, information technology, teachers, other professionals (e.g., school media specialist, special education representative, etc.), and if the system is to be accessible by parents, obtain a parent representative.
  2. If needed, hire an experienced consultant to guide you through the process.
  3. Complete an environmental scan to identify all the systems and processes you have to collect, store, and use data (e.g., spreadsheets, databases, paper files, CDs, etc.).
  4. Decide what information and data you need to make decisions, certify students/teachers, and to complete required reports.
  5. Ensure that the data is of value and that you are not duplicating data in multiple formats.
  6. Develop data input standards/style guide so that information in your new SIS is clean; create definitions for each data field – ones that make sense to anyone who might read a specific data record.
  7. Establish workflows that work so that shadow systems do not continue and that new ones are not created as work-arounds to the new SIS.

Generous Benefits

Unified SIS systems produce generous benefits – from saving money to being able to provide staff with other learning opportunities, from being able to certify students throughout a district for free school lunches to significantly reducing the number of returned letters by mail, and from reduced frustration levels on the part of staff to better decision making for the school and/or district. The investment in time, effort, and energy to implement a new SIS will pay back the teaching and learning process in many ways.

For more information on how Aspect is aligned extremely well to provide you with the solution and know-how with our experience in Strategy & Planning, Implementation, Development & Integration, and Analytics, contact Joel Lathrop.

Gail Staines
Gail M. Staines, External Funding Specialist, previously served as a Sr. Fellow in the Office of Academic Affairs at Saint Louis University as well as the Assistant Vice President for University Libraries. She holds a PhD in higher education administration from the University at Buffalo where she was a visiting professor in the School of Informatics for many years. Dr. Staines served as the Executive Director of the Western New York Library Resources Council (a nonprofit consortium of all types of libraries). Author of GO GET THAT GRANT, and other books and articles, Dr. Staines is a frequent presenter both nationally and internationally.


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