New digital dashboards to prove insightful

February 27, 2018

The N.D. Insights homepage.

A collaborative effort among three state agencies has resulted in a brand new set of digital dashboards that aims to make the most up-to-date data available to parents and taxpayers.

Referred to as North Dakota Insights, the project took a page out of previous public data repositories – Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) and North Dakota University System’s (NDUS) Dashboards – and went one step further.

To make it happen, researchers, programmers and administrators at DPI, NDUS and the state’s Information Technology Department (ITD) started brainstorming more than a year ago. From that came a common goal: the agencies would create a dashboard that included information regarding high school graduation rates, student participation and test results from the N.D. State Assessment for English, math and science, and state results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“This is part of our ongoing commitment to be more transparent and publicly accountable to North Dakota’s students, parents and taxpayers,” State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler noted at the launch of N.D. Insights. “North Dakotans invest their tax dollars in education, and we must make sure that information about how our schools are doing is easily accessible.”

From the technical side of the collaboration ITD SLDS Director Tracy Korsmo said his agency helped coordinate resources, design and develop the Insights site and the dashboards on it. Having been previously involved with Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) committees that defined the state’s plan and dashboard requirements, Korsmo had plenty of working knowledge on how to get the collaboration moving smoothly forward.

“The collaborative efforts were prompted by the need to cost-effectively create public data and dashboards from complex rules and data collections,” he noted. “The transition from No Child Left Behind to ESSA required a different approach to data collections by the DPI; gone are the days of spreadsheets, manually manipulated to produce static pdfs which took approximately 8 months to produce.

“To meet new accountability reporting requirements data such as graduation rates, assessment results, survey results are needed within a month after school ends and some collections during the current school year,” Korsmo added. “The need for more data, faster and valid data requires DPI to utilize the N.D. SLDS data and staff and be able to combine this with other state data collected by DPI.”

DPI Management Information Systems Director Ross Roemmich said the N.D. Insights project started because of the North Dakota Consolidated State Plan ESSA, which required states to publicly report academic achievement levels for all public schools. Roemmich said that four-phase project required school dashboards that existed under one accountability system and included information on advanced improvement and long-term goals.

Collaborative work began in earnest at the start of July when appropriations funded research staff for work involving both DPI and NDUS. At that time the two agencies entered an agreement with ITD to get the framework together for a website. After all, once the research was gathered, it would need a home. It was given one at insights.nd.gov.

NDUS Institutional Researcher for Special Projects Greg Carlson said the site was split into two distinct portals.

“The N.D. Insights portal provides a public display of data at the state, district, and school levels while suppressing low subgroup counts in accordance with Family Educational Rights and Privacy (FERPA) Act guidelines preventing disclosure of identifiable student data,” he noted. “The N.D. Education Portal intended for state, school and district leaders provides a display similar to the N.D. Insights portal, without suppressing low cell counts as is required on the public portal.”

Carlson’s work included developing a testing script with a series of questions for each dashboard data element and corresponding spreadsheet for reporting, presenting a session outlining the purpose and structure of the testing plan. Additionally, he worked on providing direction on what testers should do to complete the process, and providing support during the process. After that, more collaboration in providing term explanations and portal testing took place to get the sites functioning prior to their November release dates.

Korsmo noted that due to data validation and resources from NDUS, statisticians from both SLDS and NDUS, and DPI staff providing accountability via official data, the work was a successful collaborative effort.

“Insights complements the SLDS as a public site that allows for interactive engagement with data, visual presentation and a means of informing the public and policy makers,” he said. “The Insight project provides an ‘official’ data layer to the SLDS. While the NDUS does use SLDS data for its Dashboards and public reporting, Insights allows DPI to utilize the SLDS for public reporting.”

Fully available to the public and true to its name, N.D. Insights gives the public a look into every public school in the state, Roemmich noted. Previous data such as SLDS required direct permission from a school district in order to view data. At N.D. Insights, all publicly-available data is accessible in one location.

“DPI has been blessed with great people that help us from NDUS and ITD,” Roemmich said. “ITD has developed years and years of work on the SLDS. DPI has compiled years and years of data for this project. Working collaboratively with NDUS–DPI-ITD, this project has been in preparation for many years.”

Korsmo added that Insights would expand to include information on K-12 schools not necessarily required, but still informational for the public. That would include information on transition and preparation for college and workforce, as well as data on the supply and demand of high-need careers and students enrolled in degrees/certificate programs to fill those careers.

“It has been difficult work and this multi-agency team has done a great job!” Korsmo stated.

“We have accomplished so much in such a short period of time with collaborative team work,” Roemmich said.

Carlson echoed the sentiment.

“The collaboration between NDUS and DPI has been exciting,” he said. “Through this process, N.D. has created a pioneering model of how institutional research can facilitate inter-agency collaboration, transcending differences in culture and constituency groups. To our knowledge, no other state features agency collaboration of this nature between K-12 and higher education.”