How a dashboard can improve the quality of teachers

The University of North Carolina has developed a customizable dashboard to identify problems in how the state trains teachers for its public school system.

dashboard-teacher-qualityFaced with an alarming decline in both the number and quality of teachers in the North Carolina public school system, the University of North Carolina has developed a data-driven dashboard to provide immediate visibility into what’s working—and what’s not—in the state’s teacher-preparation programs.

Developed in partnership with SAS, the North Carolina-based software giant, the dashboard was a key recommendation of the UNC Board of Governors Subcommittee on Teacher and School Leader Quality.

“What emerged from the work of that subcommittee was the need for us to be far more transparent about the research and data that we have on these critical issues in North Carolina,” said Alisa Chapman, UNC vice president for academic and university programs.

Since 2010, enrollment in colleges of education across the UNC system has declined by 27 percent. “We’re the single largest supply source of teachers for the 115 or so school districts across our state,” said Chapman, who noted that the dashboard helps bring these critical declines into stark relief. “As a university system, we need to help the state be less dependent on supply sources that do not yield the quality of teachers and school leaders that meet our expectations.”

The Educator Quality Dashboard, as it’s known, was built in seven months using the SAS Visual Analytics tool. While many higher ed dashboards are intended only for administrators, the Educator Quality Dashboard is geared to the needs of stakeholders at every level of the state’s teacher-preparation programs.

“The dashboard is a really good tool for a range of stakeholders in our state, including legislators and policy makers in Raleigh, State Board of Education members, and certainly members of the UNC Board of Governors,” said Chapman. “In addition, we think that it’s an invaluable tool for teacher educators in our colleges of education, and certainly practitioners in our public schools.”

(Next page: The dashboard’s metrics; judging value)

Dashboard Metrics

To meet the needs of this broad audience, the dashboard is divided into four components:

  • Recruitment and Selection, where viewers can compare the admission requirements of the state’s 15 teacher-education schools, including criteria such as GPA, and even evaluate the performance of a school’s education graduates against its non-education graduates.
  • Educator Preparation compares the performance of the education schools in training the next generation of North Carolina teachers. Viewers can see, for example, which schools are experiencing increases or drops in their enrollment numbers, how many new teachers each school produces, and how long it takes those teachers to earn their degrees.
  • Performance and Employment tracks the effectiveness of the 15 schools’ graduates in the workplace. A Program Effectiveness Report, for example, compares the test scores of a teacher’s students with those from previous years. The dashboard also displays teacher-retention rates and job-placement rates. All the data is provided only in aggregate, so no teacher names are ever involved.
  • University-School Partnerships tracks the various partnerships between the state’s education colleges and its school districts.

To help users discern trends, SAS Visual Analytics allows viewers to slice and dice the data in myriad ways, whether by individual education college, by year, by grade level, or even by subject area. “It has the ability to really personalize and customize the view of information,” added Chapman. “Policy makers, educators, legislators, higher education administrators, K-12 administrators, and parents can pull up and do comparisons by institution. They can do comparisons across schools for school districts in North Carolina.”

Obviously, the quality of the information available through the dashboard is only as good as the data feeding it. “I do believe that North Carolina is unique in that we have a rich set of data to pull from,” said Chapman, who notes that the data extends back a decade in many cases. “We also have a good history of collaboration with education sectors within our state.”

The richness of the data available allowed UNC to establish its dashboard relatively quickly, although a fair amount of back-end work was needed to clean up the data and establish how the various feeds would be handled. “A lot really depends on the state and the data-sharing agreements that it has in place,” said Emily Baranello, senior director in SAS’s Education Practice. “Of course, a lot also depends on the quality of that data.”

SAS is working with various other states, including Texas and Louisiana, to develop their own dashboards utilizing the company’s Visual Analytics tool. “Education has actually been in the forefront of developing different dashboards over the last couple of years,” said Baranello, adding that even states without North Carolina’s robust data infrastructure can benefit from mining the data they have.

“What’s great about a platform like this is that you can continue to add to it—states can bring in data sources as they are able to get them,” said Baranello, noting that Connecticut has taken exactly this approach.

Ultimately, though, the value of the UNC Educator Quality Dashboard will be judged on whether it helps the state’s educators identify and resolve the issues brought to light. Based on early returns, Chapman is extremely confident. “Since our soft launch in May, the dashboard has really made our deans of education and our institutions accountable to what the outcomes are,” she said. “The information’s available, and they have to become far more adept at talking about the implications for their specific college, school, or department education. That’s really important.”

Andrew Barbour is a contributing editor with eCampus News.

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