There was no disagreement between Austin, Texas business leaders and public school officials on their end goal: get more students into colleges.
Guiding that task meant a crash course in performance management and quality information that had previously been scattered or untraceable.
So, in 2006, the Austin Chamber of Commerce guided the Austin Independent School District on its “20,010 by 2010” effort, the formal creation of individualized metrics and tracking of academic and college application benchmarks for its more than 250,000 students across 15 districts. Gene Austin, corporate chairman of the effort and CEO of Convio, a maker of nonprofit engagement solutions, says applying data standards used in the business world was key to assisting the area’s school districts and the education of the next generation of workers.
“The passion for improving education in Central Texas and having focused goals was really high, but we absolutely had no data to guide that,” he says.
After a few months of meetings, the chamber and school districts hired OneLogos, an education solutions provider based in the Texas capital city, to design the system. The data system aggregates multiple sources of student performance and background information, sets up oversight on evaluation and timeline expectations for students that were easily viewed and access by administrators and college enrollment managers, and automatically syncs up testing and applications. From there, the district could pull up dashboards that note such elements as real-time student status with financial aid requirements, and how teaching sessions impacted changes in their testing results.
Like any data management system, there was a learning curve – especially in an area previously rife with multiple formats and manual loading – but administrators soon took to the measurable results and data mapping capabilities in the tools, says Rich Haines, CEO of OneLogos.
“At the end of the day, when you do that right, I think it’s a lot easier when everyone has an understanding of how the process works and what this data can actually provide,” Haines says.
And the results in enrollment and district information have been undeniable. The metro Austin school districts registered a 20 percent increase in college entrance applications within three years and a 30 percent increase in enrollment since 2005, according to Drew Scheberle, SVP Education, Austin Chamber of Commerce. The new information led to need and subsequent creation of Austin Partners in Education, a program where volunteers can coach students on testing materials to better prepare them for secondary education and avoid remediation courses.
Financial metrics in the data reports also led to an 85 percent boost in applications for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), leading to an additional $43 million in college aid to economically disadvantaged Austin students. With a plan to track the data for the first time in place, the Chamber helped the school district secure a $62.3 million grant, the largest through the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Incentive Fund, that would also beef up its performance pay system.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recognized the efforts on student data management as a way to create and educate, competitive future workforce, and other districts in Texas, Alabama and Illinois are looking to Austin as an example for own initiatives. Going forward, the districts and chamber expect to build on its new-found repository of student information, and related college prepatory programs and benchmarks that have shown results.
“Now, we’re able to get these enrollment managers the data tools on students on an individual level that help them in setting and evaluating goals,” Scheberle says.
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