Anoka-Hennepin gets new ways to mine student data

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 17, 2012 - 9:33 PM

Web-based management system promises efficiency.

Consider the mountains of data generated by more than 39,000 students, attending 37 schools staffed by about 6,000 teachers.

Those are the demographics of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, the state's largest, and explain why it has been adopting a new system to improve staffers' and parents' ability to wrangle information about academics, discipline, attendance and communication.

It's been three years since the school board began working with California-based Edupoint to create a Web-based, districtwide Synergy system to replace two aging information systems. Many pieces of the new system already are in place; others are being adapted to specific users' needs.

The recent legal settlement that resolved two bullying lawsuits against the district requires Anoka-Hennepin to enhance reporting and recordkeeping practices on disciplinary matters. An upgrade of that kind actually was put into motion with the Synergy system at the beginning of this school year. From a system that mainly tracked incidents by perpetrator, the district has moved to one that is searchable by perpetrator, victim, bystanders, location, time and more, said Neil Klund-Schubert, principal on assignment with information services and technology. Multiple hits could trigger an automated alert for administrators signaling a need for follow-up.

But that's not all Synergy does, Klund-Schubert said.

Along with other tools, the program will be able to format data so people can access the information they need, from school or from home, and see trends, over time and in real time. A "data dashboard" will create an alert when something isn't going as it should, when a student is missing homework assignments, if there's a sudden dip in test scores or a series of discipline problems centered on one student.

In addition:

• Unlike the old data management system, this one allows for more efficient secure sharing of information between buildings. That will ease the transition of students' data as they move from school to school.

• District officials also will be able to run reports to more fully examine larger trends in test scores, demographics, finance and other data. "Things that would have taken us weeks to do, if at all before, now we'd be able to do in an ongoing process at the click of a button," chief technology and information officer Patrick Plant said.

• Through the existing AH-Connect interface, parents will be able to use one login to access all their children's gradebook and attendance information or to pay fees. Secondary students and their families can access test scores, see missing homework and even get links to worksheets and websites for assignments.

• Synergy handles all of the district's census and demographic information and creates reports that are mandatory for state funding. In concert with another program, district officials also can do boundary and school capacity planning and enrollment projections.

In the first year of implementation, the new systems cost the district about $1.5 million, before settling into annual maintenance fees of about $265,000. The new systems are more flexible, more practical and cost the district about $300,000 less than it had been paying to maintain the disparate systems it had used before, Plant said.

That sum does not come from the technology levy voters approved last fall, but from the Technology and Information Services Department budget in the district's general fund.

Plant gave a nod to staffers going through the long process of adopting a new system and noted that the district still is taking suggestions from people on how it can run better or more efficiently.

"We're looking to continually work with everybody involved to enhance the system and see new capabilities," he said, adding with a laugh, "It's not like it's a static thing, like put a staple in it and we're done."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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