IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

AWS IMAGINE: Data Analysis Can Help Teacher Performance, Too

A panel at the AWS IMAGINE conference in Seattle this week discussed the potential for data, given the right infrastructure, to optimize a school district's staff by matching teacher skills with student deficits.

Student Outcomes Panel.jpg
From left to right, panelists Kevin McCandless, Michael McAuley, Andrew Rice, Dan Ralyea and Gautham Sampath discuss how data can improve student outcomes at the AWS IMAGINE 2022 conference on Aug. 3 in Seattle.
Giovanni Albanese
With so many ed-tech tools and platforms collecting data, data analysis has become an integral part of improving student performance. A recent example would be Duval County in Florida, where a school district used metrics like attendance and test scores to flag at-risk students and increase graduation rates. Expert panelists at a session during the AWS IMAGINE 2022 education conference in Seattle this week turned the idea of data analysis in schools on its head, saying the real untapped potential is in using data to improve teacher performance.

Among the panelists at a session called “Improving Student Outcomes with Better Data Sources” were Dan Ralyea, director of research and data analysis at the South Carolina Department of Education, and Chief of Staff Michael McAuley of Hillsborough County Public Schools, Fla. Both Ralyea and McAuley believed that students achieve success by way of teachers.

“We need to empower teachers and school districts,” Ralyea said in the session, which was moderated by AWS Senior Solutions Architect Kevin McCandless. “Everything we are looking at is about infrastructure. I’m talking about building roads in a way that allows every teacher, and by extension every student, access to a high-quality integrated data system.”

McAuley echoed those sentiments but leaned more into the need for data to better understand what would assist the adults in the classroom.

“(We’re analyzing data like) what kind of adults do we have in front of kids? What do we know about those adults in terms of number of years' experience in teaching, the number of years at that school, in that content area, in that grade. Things that we’ve never really looked at very closely, historically,” McAuley said.

McAuley added that his school district, which is among the largest in the country, is looking for ways to use that information to match teachers and their skills with student needs. He said that not many systems are set up to do that, because the data sets are disconnected from one another.

“Once we begin looking at how those things connect with each other, we can understand better about what to put in front of kids, strengthen our workforce and make it a better experience overall,” he said. “(Education) is really all about the adults. If I can take care of the adults and give them the tools they need, I don’t have to worry about the kids.”

As to how to implement solutions sought by the likes of the South Carolina DoE and Hillsborough County Public Schools, companies like Innive or the nonprofit Education Analytics have stepped in to help. Other panelists included Innive Chief Executive Officer Gautham Sampath and Education Analytics CEO Andrew Rice. Sampath said the challenge he sees is getting schools out of siloed data systems to have all educators to understand the students. Rice said the best way to implement data is through modern cloud technology.

“Once the barrier of technology melts away, which is kind of where we are, then you get to the real work of governance and privacy and security and use,” Rice, whose nonprofit has partnered with the state of South Carolina to build a data infrastructure across the entire state, said.

With data, notably in the K-12 space, privacy is always a concern. Across the board, the panelists believe that storing the information in a cloud-based system is the safest way to secure it. The secure storage of data then allows the school districts and state boards of education to focus on gathering the information to propel their students to better outcomes.

“The opportunity to leverage the technology advances, we are obligated, if not outright required, to figure that out for the kids that are in front of us,” McAuley said. “Because if we don’t, they are the only ones who suffer.”
Giovanni Albanese Jr. is a staff writer for the Center for Digital Education. He has covered business, politics, breaking news and professional soccer over his more than 15-year reporting career. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Salem State University in Massachusetts.