Making the most of data:
Why reporting is just the beginning
TalentEd’s team of data, analytics and research experts explain the difference between reporting and analytics — and why it matters to K-12 education.
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Kevin Keenmon:Welcome to the TalentEd K-12 podcast. Today, we’re going to discuss how districts are currently using data, and how they can use data more effectively.
Now for those of you who don’t know, TalentEd is the leading provider of K-12 talent management solutions.
My name is Kevin Keenmon, and recently I had the opportunity to talk with a few of TalentEd’s data, analytics and research experts, and according to Edward Franz, a strategic Customer Success consultant with a background in data-insight consultation, K-12 education has evolved in a way that’s made accessing and understanding data a necessity.
Edward Franz:Well, the education industry is rapidly transforming with the measurement of student performance — with standardized test scoring, you know, as the big focus. So, there’s so much that affects student performance: curriculum, quality of teachers and support staff, the list goes on and on. So, being focused on all those sources of the data that impacts student performance is how schools, principals, boards, unions, etc., are largely measured now. And that’s really game-changing.
Kevin:TalentEd Chief Research Officer Nick Montgomery explained that technology is making it easier than ever for schools and districts to access and report on that data.
Nick Montgomery:We’ve seen, for a long time, that software — particularly cloud-based software tools — are generating lots of data. And so reporting is an important step to start getting information out of that. Whether it’s for basic compliance reporting or it’s about being able to do your own analysis, reporting is the starting point.
Kevin:But while reporting is a valuable tool, it does have its limitations.
Edward:It’s something that’s very matter-of-fact. You know, to simplify, just the output of data. The challenge I see, though, with reporting is that so much time and effort is spent on pulling and configuring the data that there’s almost like a fatigue factor after you made it through that process, and too often people don’t analyze the data contained in their reporting, or at least put the level of effort that’s needed to do a true analysis.
Kevin:Katy Smith, Analyticsproduct manager at TalentEd, who has a background in analytics and decision science, agreed that the time spent aggregating data and generating reports does limit its effectiveness.
Katy Smith:Yeah, that is a common problem. And for this reason we see many districts doing analysis at the end of the school year, right? That’s the most convenient time for them to put effort into pulling these reports, matching them up, and analyzing data over a specified period of time.
But it’s really unfortunate to need to wait until the end of the school year to be able to take action to improve the situation at your district. And you can have an even more meaningful impact on student outcomes when you’re able to make changes inside that school year.
Kevin:So how do districts realize the opportunity to quickly make changes that have a meaningful impact on student outcomes? That’s where analytics holds a key advantage over reporting.
Nick:Reporting is a tool for extracting data, you know, raw data or near raw data from a database. It’s like Excel spreadsheets. That’s what you should think about when you think about reporting. It’s a type of information you get in a spreadsheet because you want to do some manipulation. You want to dig in on the information. You want to put it into another system. And so reporting is an important component of any system.
Analytics, on the other hand, is about understanding those data. So, it’s a layer above the type of thing you would see in Excel spreadsheet. It’s what you’re trying to often get out of that Excel spreadsheet, where you’re really trying to understand what the relationship is between the different data points. Analytics is about understanding what’s happening inside the system, why it’s happening, and where you can possibly make some changes to improve things.
Kevin:To put it simply, analytics uncovers the meaning that reports point to.
Edward:I’m a strong believer in the adage that analytics is finding the stories from the data, you know, looking for the context, the why behind the data. And then once you understand the why, you’ll have the insights that we talk about with analytics, and can take the corresponding action.
Kevin:Because of the greater context involved, analytics helps K-12 leaders identify the most impactful ways they can improve district performance.
Nick:Analytics is absolutely the more actionable form of information because it’s at that higher level. Reporting, you have to do a lot of work to make it actionable. With analytics, it’s targeted and geared towards taking action — understanding and taking action.
That’s why you have all this data is to turn it into analytics so that you can understand it and determine what your next steps are and how to make improvements.
Kevin:Despite the potential, analytics can also be intimidating.
Edward:People often view the data as something that’s abstract. You hear terms thrown out like big data, and that can be very daunting to people.
So, I see that people are resistant to the term “analytics.” So, in a lot of ways, sometimes, it’s not confused because people draw a line there and say, “Well, I’m cool with reporting and this is what I’m comfortable with, but not necessarily analytics. That seems like something that is out of my jurisdiction to perform.”
So, they think it’s over their head. They want to stick with what’s comfortable to them, you know, pulling the reports, the ones that they’ve been using for a long time, the stuff that they’re safe with. And, in that kind of shell, they can kind of get to where you, you know, you get comfortable with how you’re going to view and act on that data in the way that you’ve always been doing it.
Kevin:So often the districts that are benefiting from analytics are those with the most resources at their disposal or those who have a very specialized skillset.
Katy:Right now, analytics has mainly impacted institutions that have the money and the resources to go and hire the talent who can build a data warehouse for them, who can code in a business intelligence tool that’s hooked up to their data, and who can understand the most effective ways to visualize that data for the district to be able to make decisions. It’s a very small percentage of districts that have the time and the resources, and the capabilities to go and do that.
Kevin:While technology can help, districts have to be careful when selecting a solution, as many vendors that claim to offer analytics really offer little more than glorified reporting.
Nick:Where software vendors will say they do reporting, they say they do analytics. Usually, when they say analytics, it’s much closer to reporting, possibly with a graph or two stuck on top. But it’s really just about giving you that raw access to the data.
Kevin:And that can cause problems.
Katy:Many districts are currently using reporting to meet needs that are better suited for an analytics tool. So, they’re left pulling reports out of disparate systems, trying to manually link up that data, trying to calculate some metrics that are meaningful to them, and by the time they get through all the effort, a lot of time has passed.
So, there’s a big opportunity to use analytics to speed up that process so that districts are empowered to spend more effort understanding the stories in the data and then the resulting action that would improve district outcomes.
Kevin:To determine whether a solution will truly offer the analytics your district needs, Nick suggests seeking answers to these questions.
Nick:Are they just giving you access to the data or are they providing you with insights? Have they done the legwork to identify what actually matters? Have they built in the predictive components and the analysis to say this is what matters most for you and then let you take that as a jumping off point for your own guided journey? Or are they just giving you access to information where you really have to do a lot of work and spend a lot of time to turn it into meaningful insights?
Kevin:Well, there you have it: Best practices in K-12 talent management. If you’d like to learn how TalentEd’s analytics solutions can empower better decision-making at your district, please view the additional resources section in the episode description. Thank you for listening.