An inherent challenge for supplemental virtual schools is that they do not “own” their students. In most cases, the local school that will ultimately issue the credit for the course, and graduate the student, does. However, with many of the state data systems now available, the capability exists for online schools to have immediate access to all the information gathered by the local school. By sharing data on each student, online classes can more seamlessly integrate with the larger educational plan of a student at a face-to-face school. Over 20 states have begun or completed the process of incorporating longitudinal data into state record systems. Georgia Virtual School’s integration with the Georgia State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) provides an example of the integration that is possible between traditional schools and a part-time virtual course provider.
Georgia Virtual School is embedded inside the Technology Services division of the Georgia Department of Education. The Technology Services department includes data collections from local districts and application development in addition to the virtual school. Over the last five years, Georgia has rolled out a SLDS that allows local district teachers and administrators to access individual student records as well as aggregate data. For example, on the dashboard, teachers can see average reading lexile scores, the percentage of students with chronic attendance issues, the percentage of students who passed a variety of standardized tests, and grades in relevant previous courses. All of this information is available for current classes as well as previous years. The images below show examples of the teacher dashboard.
Anywhere there is a number presented in SLDS, you can hover the mouse to find out more details and most numbers can also be clicked to show a list of students in that group. Any student name can be clicked to pull an individual student profile with all the records for that student.
With access to so much information, teachers want to know not only how to access the system but what to do with the data they find. Carrie Madden, a GaVS science teacher and the iNACOL 2014 online teacher of the year, uses the SLDS when making calls home for students who are struggling academically. While making those calls, she pulls up that particular student’s SLDS profile. By seeing the historical test scores, reading levels, prior class grades, and attendance, she gains additional perspective that allows those calls home to be more constructive. For example, a student with lots of attendance issues for years may have personal and family struggles more than strictly academic concerns. If a child is well below the target reading levels for their respective grade, remediation and support in reading science text may be more helpful than additional work in a particular science topic.
Through a combination of web conferencing and self-paced online modules, teachers are trained by GaVS on optimal use cases for the SLDS. The first idea the training presents is to focus on one student a day to better understand the educational background of one student at a time, and eventually the entire class. Over time teachers begin to know and understand the challenges of their students. A second use of SLDS is for grouping students by ability. A variety of test scores are aggregated for the teacher by performance levels in addition to the lexile reading ranges. During test preparation, the domain and strand breakdowns of previous tests can shed light on the specific needs of any student, thus providing the foundation for a more personalized learning experience.
The SLDS was built specifically for traditional schools to access through their own student information systems (SIS), but online students can benefit from virtual school access to statewide data. It warrants the efforts necessary to use this data for better online instruction.
Joe Cozart, Associate Director of Strategic Planning, Georgia Virtual School