By: Jennifer Pignolet
Original Post from The Memphis Commercial Appeal
As an assistant principal, Velvet Jeter knows the students who are struggling the most at Brownsville Road Elementary.
The ones who are at a moderate risk of falling behind or developing disruptive behavioral issues, however, sometimes go unnoticed until there are major problems requiring time-consuming and expensive interventions.
A new software system Shelby County Schools is deploying throughout the district this fall aims to identify those students, and for all students receiving an intervention, identify what does and does not help them.
Often, Jeter said, "we feel like we're giving them the right prescription, but we're not."
"I think it helps you know exactly what is in your building," she said.
The SCS board approved a contract for nearly $2 million this spring with an education technology company called BrightBytes to implement the new data system for the next three school years.
School leaders spent this week learning to use the software to identify children who may be at risk for dropping out of school or experiencing other academic delays.
Chris Graves, the district's senior manager for decision analytics and information management, said the software combines data that teachers already report across the district and pulls it into one place, accessible to the leader of any school.
In a high-poverty district like SCS, where students frequently change schools, the program allows a teacher to quickly learn about a new student, Graves said.
And instead of just seeing report cards and discipline records, the system rolls together additional data like how often that student was absent or tardy and how they performed on state tests to determine if they are at a low or high risk for falling behind.
The program uses historical data from across SCS to compare current students' progress with those who have graduated and were considered ready for college.
Too often, Graves said, data across large school districts and even in school buildings is reviewed in silos, and the "whole child" is not considered.
The system also tracks what interventions have been tried with each student. A child who has failing grades, for example, may struggle most in early classes because of issues with transportation.
The new system would identify that issue and explain what has been done in the past to try to mitigate the problem.
The question the system ultimately tries to answer, he said, is "What is the support they need to be on track for graduation, to be ready for college?"
The district has ambitious goals through Destination 2025 to have 80 percent of seniors ready for college or a career, a 90 percent graduation rate, and 100 percent of students who are ready for college or a career enrolled in a post-secondary opportunity.
The new data system, Graves said, will help the district understand what works and does not work to reach those goals, and can identify common problems or issues that many students face.
For Craigmont High Principal Tisha Durrah, the program is a chance to be proactive about interventions, whether a student needs tutoring, behavioral coaching, emotional support, or weekly reminders about the importance of arriving to school on time.
On Wednesday, during a training session at Bolton High, she was able to look up the students who will be walking into her building in three weeks. She was already planning how to address her students' needs.
"We can start looking at having parent meetings on the front end," Durrah said.