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Posted on Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor schools approve $130K for new student assessment data technology

By Danielle Arndt

The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education approved allocating nearly $130,630 in Title 2 grant funds to purchase equipment for implementing a new data software system district wide.

In March, AAPS launched a Data Director pilot program at six schools based on an interest survey. Data Director is a computer software that allows teachers, administrators and central office personnel to exercise more control over how student assessment data is collected and accessed for the development of personalized learning plans, said Superintendent Patricia Green.


Alesia Flye

The schools that participated in the pilot — King Elementary, Clague Middle School and Ann Arbor Technological, Community, Huron and Skyline high schools — responded favorably to the data program, Green said.

Allocating the funds necessary for expanding the program was approved at the Board of Education meeting on Aug. 1.

Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Alesia Flye said some one-time money through Title 2 became available for the district to make this purchase, which largely will go toward buying PCs, scanners and hard drives for the software to run on. The grant money will allow the district to set up 72 scanning stations throughout the schools for using the data software.

Data Director provides all the tools needed to analyze state and local student assessment data in one place, Flye said. She explained teachers can scan the bubble sheets from their tests and quizzes into Data Director (which essentially is a large data warehouse) at one of the 72 scanning stations.

The software gives teachers, principals and the district’s research department immediate access to the results of those assessments and eliminates the need for central office staff to manually enter the data or to compile it.

Results from the Michigan Merit Exam, Michigan Educational Assessment Program, Northwest Evaluation Association and tests developed by Ann Arbor classroom teachers will all be housed in the same location.

“Teachers won’t have to wait to get any (reports) from any other department. They can see and compare scores for individual students instantly,” Flye said.

“We have a serious need to broaden our reach and to analyze data, collect data and disseminate data more effectively,” Green added. “As part of our discipline gap and achievement gap elimination plans — this is at the center of it. … And for student profiles and the personalized learning pieces we would like to do … teachers and principals have to have better access to data to interpret data much better than they are now.”

Green said teachers will be able to see individual student trends whenever an issue with a child arises and develop strategies for tailored curriculum to assist the student and correct the achievement problem.

There will be some teacher and administrator training needed in order for staff to effectively analyze data, Flye said, but added the scanning stations and software itself are user-friendly.

The software and scanners do only operate on PCs and Windows, however, hence the need for the equipment purchases. As part of the technology bond that was passed in May, AAPS will be purchasing hundreds of new Apple computers, which won’t run the software.

But Flye said accessing and manipulating the data won’t be affected by hardware incompatibilities. The scanners are what must be run on a PC, she said.

Trustee Glenn Nelson asked what the difference is between Data Director and PowerSchool and why there was a need for both.

Flye said Data Director purely is for internal instructional data, whereas PowerSchool houses demographic data, attendance stats, class information and grades for parents to access.

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Thu, Aug 9, 2012 : 12:43 p.m.

Administrators have made Pioneer teachers collect and submit final exam data in math, science and social studies for about 5 years. I thought that the other high school in the district had the same equipment. We already have special scanners and software for that (datalink). Granted there were only two scanners for the whole building and one of them hasn't printed correctly for more than a year, but it seems wasteful to get new scanners, computers, and software when we already have some equipment . Did they say how this new hardware/software is an improvement on the equipment we already have? I can only speak to the math department, but we did use the data to reexamine questions on final exams for possible wording confusion, and to look for areas that students still show a lack of understanding so that we can address those areas in the curriculum.

Rudra N Rebbapragada

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 5:13 p.m.

SPENDING WITH NO GOALS : This spending is not attached to any specific goal other than that of finding data about assessment tests. It could be another tool to generate new data to make new studies about existing data. It will neither help to improve learning and nor help enforce discipline.

Dog Guy

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

With an hour's work, any middle school computer geek could get this software up and running even faster using discarded computers and free linux operating systems. Free Ubuntu OS's (e.g.) are faster than Windows using "The software and scanners do only operate on PCs and Windows".


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 4:11 p.m.

Will this reduce the amount of the ask in the forthcoming technology bond by $130K?

Danielle Arndt

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 7 p.m.

brimble, no. As stated in the story, the money for Data Director is coming from Title 2 funds, not technology bond funds.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 2:17 p.m.

How much time are teachers now going to have to spend scanning in these bubble sheets?

Dr. I. Emsayin

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 1:56 p.m.

There have been many complaints about the world history curriculum required by the state. I get the feeling that students are not learning to think and respond deeply anymore, but rather are always being prepared to succeed on bubble tests. I have heard about a computer program being used by the district that assesses writing which analyzes sentence structure but has no understanding of content. If we are looking at the bubble test and computer test type of data though, homework completion and daily attendance are key to successful outcomes. How can teachers receive merit pay based on attendance of the student?


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

Are you referring to the computer program where the student's writing is given a score and the writer can keep going back to fix the writing to up the score?


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 1:21 p.m.

@Basic Bob .... One does have to wonder why educational software companies build products that only work on Windows machines when so many districts are Apple-only. Seems like there would be a serious market for their products in Apple format. I've been down this road in another district with a similar software that was run on Macs, but needed Windows for the admin side of it. It can be a technological nightmare. Hope this one isn't like that.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 1:01 p.m.

The district is famous for collecting data, but not doing anything with it. Each report card at the 4th/5th grade level is six pages long, yet the data the teacher enters is not sortable in any way, so all the data entry does nothing to help a teacher help her students.

Basic Bob

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 12:44 p.m.

How does scanning bubble tests help with a discipline gap? I don"t see the connection, probably because I didn't get the Dr. Edumacation jargon translator. Why woukld you buy dozens or hundreds of Windows PCs and Windows O/S if the entire district is operating on MAC OS X? There's probably not many teachers with much experience on the Microsoft stuff, because Apple owns the education market.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 12:11 p.m.

Shouldn't $130,630 be rounded up to $131k in the headline? $130,630 / 72 = $1,814.31 for a computer, scanner, and software? Central storage hardware?


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 11:47 a.m.

Yeah, about that tailored curriculum, does the district plan to collect data, analyze data, respond to data and develope a tailored curriculum and not discuss this at any point with a parent? Really????Uh, no way is this an acceptable plan to me


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 11:03 a.m.

@Danielle - Will there by a quick and easy way to compare academic performance data from Data Director to: -attendance data from Power School and -also the difference between student scores on homework, classroom tests and quizzes and the assessment tools used in Data Director? -when there are discrepancies between the two, what happens next? Example 1: If Student A is not attending class, but getting good grades on classroom homework, passing grades on quizzes and low grades on classroom tests and Data Director assessments, what is the next step for helping the student? What are the chain of steps that happen next? Example 2: Will this data be collected early enough in a semester or trimester at Skyline to help students get back on track? Getting a struggling student back on track takes joint effort between parents and teachers. Why won't parents have access to the Data Director data and only to Power School data? If this is a program critical for the district to have and tax dollars paid for it, I think parents should be included from step one. Also, the stronger teachers in the district from elementary through high school (and there are a lot of them) are the ones who could probably tell you what the data director program will. Does anyone in the BALAS building actually talked to the teachers? @ Danielle -- did you try to get any comment from teachers or the Union for this story or just talk to Alecia Flye or a press release written by BALAS staff? I am not in favor of Data Director if it is something that ultimately just helps administrators justify their salaries by having their administrative assistants and secretarial staff create power points for board meetings.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 8:50 p.m.

@Danielle - Thank you for answering. Have you already looked at some actual Powerschool pages for students in middle school and the different high schools. Powerschool tracks daily homework, quizzes, tests and attendance. When you responded about how teachers might handle the information, that is interesting to speculate about, but I think it would help readers if you could actually ask teachers in the district what they think about this. If you are blocked from contacting teachers or teachers are blocked from talking to the media, why is that? Could you ask the teacher's union leadership for an answer or contact any of the district curriculum coordinators who are teachers? As I understand it, teachers are being asked to spend more time on more and more data assessment which pulls them away from teaching. The students who are struggling may or may not benefit from the collection of this additional data. Education-ese such as personalized learning plans is nothing new. Kids who have IEPs or 504 Plans already have personalized learning plans and many parents of kids with special needs give the district mixed reviews about executing on those plans. Will the data director help kids? On your response about Skyline students not being tested, did you have a chance to follow up with the Skyline building administration on why that was the case? Did the students from Skyline who were tested score equal to the students at Pioneer, Huron and Community or worse? The Ann Arbor Observer article that ran before the state numbers were released stated there may be problems with Skyline's math program. I am wondering if you ask administrators these questions and you aren't getting answers or if you are writing these articles from news releases and not calling enough additional sources in the district so that readers can get a more complete view of what is really going on with this new superintendent's regime that seems very disconnected from teachers in the classrooms.

Danielle Arndt

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 6:57 p.m.

aaparent, Thank you for your questions. I appreciate comments and feedback from readers and will do my best to provide answers or to find answers when I am able. To answer your initial question, yes, I was told there will be a way to analyze performance data against attendance and demographic data for comparison purposes. Additionally, there should be no discrepancies between the test and quiz scores reported to parents via PowerSchool and those housed in Data Director. With regards to your first example, I would speculate how each teacher would handle that situation would vary and depend on a variety of circumstances. This probably would be a question best asked of your child's classroom teacher or building principal. I can ask about whether Data Director's services could aid Skyline students, however, this really is not applicable to why Skyline did not meet AYP. Skyline failed to test a high enough percentage of economically disadvantaged students, and students of two or more races in math. All student subgroups must have a 95 percent or above participation rate to receive a passing AYP.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 5:54 p.m.

@Mick52 - I give Danielle Arndt credit for writing about schools news and see's job as including more comprehensive reporting and asking questions on behalf of readers. The school district has a P.R. news publication and a former reporter or freelancer, Tara Cavanaugh, has that job. Like many parents who work, I cannot attend all the board meetings but watch replays on public TV. I do not think that public commenters receive answers to any questions asked at meetings. I watched spring meetings where parents from Clemente tried to tell the board how the traditional high schools had failed their children and none of them received an answer from the board other than being told their time was up or thank you for their comments. I think that reporters (not to single out Danielle Arndt) should contact teachers or teacher representatives when writing education articles. If teachers in the district are banned from speaking to reporters to control the release of information, I think that a call to the teacher's union president or a district curriculum teacher representative would inform the public better on these issues.


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

AAparent, I think you are asking way too much of Ms. Arndt when you should be seeking the answers to your questions yourself. You surely know you have at your disposal a group of elected school board representatives you to whom can address your issues, either by mail, email or an appearance at a board meeting. Wouldn't you rather get your answers first hand than from a third party?

Dog Guy

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 4:28 p.m.

How much money will it cost us when the test bubble bursts?


Mon, Aug 6, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

Elementary teachers do not have access to "bubble tests" so this would not be anything that would be useful at that level.