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Research Alliance Study Shows $80 Million Data System Supports School-Wide Planning, but Offers Limited Help with Day-to-Day Teaching

October 22, 2012
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Like many states and school districts across the country, New York City has invested millions of dollars in data systems designed to put student information within easy reach of school administrators and teachers. The City’s Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS) was built to make schools more data-driven and to focus attention on the achievement outcomes for which they are being held accountable. A study released today by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools at NYU Steinhardt finds that ARIS is being used largely as a school-wide planning tool and much less as a direct aid to classroom instruction.

ARIS has been the subject of intense debate since its launch in 2008, but the new study represents the first independent examination of actual usage of the system. Researchers analyzed more than 24 million “clickstream” records to determine how and how much ARIS was used during the 2010-2011 school year. They also conducted surveys, interviews, and focus groups to understand educators’ perceptions of ARIS.

The study found that about three quarters of the City’s nearly 95,000 administrators, teachers, and support staff used the system at least once during the year, but generally for only brief periods. On average, educators logged on to ARIS 21 times throughout the year, for about five minutes per session. A subset of administrators and teachers used the system much more heavily; this group accounted for just 28 percent of users, but racked up more than 80 percent of all the time spent on the system.

The heaviest users tended to be school administrators and teachers with school-wide roles—for example, as data specialists or members of their school’s “inquiry team.” On average, these heavy users logged on to ARIS more than 55 times during the year and accumulated more than four and a half hours of usage. The remaining users, predominantly teachers with access only to information about the students in their classes, each spent an average of less than 25 minutes on ARIS over the course of the year. Educators also made limited use of the system’s more complex analytic functions and virtual collaboration tools.

“ARIS does not include much ‘real-time’ data, like students’ daily assignments, quizzes, and tests,” says James Kemple, executive director of the Research Alliance. “As a result, it is not surprising that its use appears to be confined largely to school-wide analysis and planning, rather than daily classroom instruction.”

While many teachers reported that ARIS is their primary source for information about students’ backgrounds and achievement, they identified a number of areas where the system could be improved. These include the need for more regular student assessment data; better training and professional development; and dedicated time to work with and learn about the system.
Based on these findings, the report’s authors make several recommendations for the ongoing development of ARIS and other school data systems around the country. They suggest that developers do more to consult educators when designing data systems, and that advanced features like complex analytical tools and “virtual communities” be tested under real-world conditions before going to scale. Some of the report’s recommendations for ARIS are already being implemented by the New York City Department of Education, which has continued to make changes in response to feedback from teachers and administrators. For example, it has piloted the integration of diagnostic assessments in reading, allowing teachers to evaluate and monitor students’ progress on a more regular basis. Thomas Gold, the report’s lead author, notes, “ARIS is an evolving system. We look forward to continuing our study to learn more about new features that have been introduced in the last year or so and about conditions that seem to support or inhibit wide usage.” The Research Alliance is planning a second report from its study in the summer of 2013.

The Research Alliance for New York City Schools at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development conducts rigorous studies on topics that matter to the city’s public schools. It strives to advance equity and excellence in education by providing non-partisan evidence about policies and practices that promote students' development and academic success. To learn more about the Research Alliance, visit: http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/research_alliance/.

About the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development prepares students for careers in the arts, education, health, media, and psychology. Since its founding in 1890, the Steinhardt School's mission has been to expand human capacity through public service, global collaboration, research, scholarship, and practice. To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit: http://steinhardt.nyu.edu.



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Research Alliance Study Shows $80 Million Data System Supports School-Wide Planning, but Offers Limited Help with Day-to-Day Teaching

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