Systematic use of data for school improvement

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There are not many schools that have heard about learning analytics. But this does not mean that they are not collecting and making use of data, although it sometimes could be done more systematically. In this blog post I will give some examples of uses of data from Swedish schools on three different levels.

Individual level
Many cities and regions collect a lot of data from students applying for upper secondary school. These data are sometimes used e.g. to make projections of pupils who are at risk to drop out which can be used to initiate support measures earlier.

Class level
The National Agency for Education is developing a tool for teachers to use data from the national tests to compare their own classes against the national performance – not just the overall result, but also subsamples to see if their own students are consistently stronger or weaker than the national average in the different parts of the curricula. If, for example, a teacher finds that his students are consistently weaker in listening comprehension in English, maybe he needs to think through how he can improve his teaching in this regard.

School level
Many municipalities have begun to provide their principals or school heads with more data to enable systematic monitoring and early feedback to schools and teachers on any curve pointing in the wrong direction. Umeå municipality have created a decision support system for school heads – a sort of business intelligence system for schools. The system facilitates reporting and supports the dialogue between principals and management. Furthermore, it minimize the need for manual compilation of data by the principals – instead the system easily generates this.

A basic idea in the system Umeå is using is to give clear visual feedback through colors (green – improvement, yellow – danger, red – warning) and arrows (upwards – improvement, horizontal – no difference, downwards – deterioration) and so on. One should quickly and clearly be able to see whether different processes and lines of business in the school are in a phase of improvement, stagnation or even deterioration. The hope is that with clear and rapid indications the school heads can issue faster and better targeted measures.

From these few examples it is clear that schools are using both learning analytics and academic analytics. But they are very seldom aware about the discourse around learning analytics and what can be learned from the research in this field. Therefore LACE WP 4 plan to host several seminars and conferences during the autumn 2014 to raise the awareness among Nordic schools, local authorities and national authorities of learning analytics.

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About Author

Dr Jan Hylén specializes in strategic analysis and has completed research for UNESCO, the OECD, the European Union, and education organizations in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries. He has a background as Director of Research at the National Agency for Education and as a former Special Advisor to the Swedish Minister of Schools. Jan earned his Ph.D. in Political Science at Stockholm University and currently resides in Stockholm, Sweden.

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