Making Student Data Meaningful


Identifying a dip in grades before it’s too late can make a difference in a student’s future.

A collaboration between the Budd Center at SMU Simmons School of Education and Human Development and more than 10 Fidelity Investments data analysts brought education and data experts together to crunch numbers and better inform educators of academic performance.

Regina Nippert, executive director of the Budd Center, has worked with over 30 nonprofits and 13 schools in West Dallas, a transitional, industrial area west of downtown Dallas, since 2007. The Budd Center is charged with bringing West Dallas schools and nonprofits to one table, where they share information and collaborate to improve educational outcomes for West Dallas students. Part of what they do is analyze data, identify students who are at risk and implement effective strategies to meet the students’ needs.

“We get the data from Dallas ISD,” Nippert said in a recent interview. “But it takes 50 hours every six weeks to take this data and crunch it back down into meaningful information.”
One of the Budd Center partners, Readers 2 Leaders, helps Dallas ISD students ages 3 to 12 who are not reading at grade level. The nonprofit offers in-school tutoring, an after-school program, summer camps and parent education programs.

“We have the student data that comes in a spreadsheet with hundreds of columns and rows,” says Lisa Dickerson, Readers 2 Leaders vice president of programs. “It is very hard to read and understand. Without the data, however, we do not know if our work is truly making a difference to that child.”

In 2018, the Budd Center was accepted as one of the organizations Fidelity Investments helps in its annual one-day Technology Impact Day. Fidelity analysts teamed up with the Budd Center and its nonprofit partners to devise user-friendly ways to interpret student data, such as grades, attendance, behavior, reading progress and test scores.

After Technology Impact Day, both the Budd Center and Fidelity agreed more collaboration was needed to develop a user-friendly dashboard of student data. With the help of SMU’s Office of Information Technology, Fidelity and the Budd Center undertook a four-month project to streamline the way student data was transmitted and presented to its nonprofit partners.

The project created and launched a user-friendly student data dashboard for the Budd Center’s nonprofit partners. The dashboard enables the nonprofit partners to track students’ progress and quickly respond to reading challenges, slipping grades or absenteeism with research-based interventions. The ease of using a dashboard enables nonprofit professionals and educators to spend more time working with the students and less time trying to translate complex documents.

Now the Budd Center is developing training modules and materials to share how to make student data more user-friendly with other communities and nonprofit organizations.

“We are finding that better use of the student information database is really shifting the dial of our collaboration with our nonprofit partners,” says Dana Stoltz Gray, the Budd Center’s director of community collaboration and evaluation. “They are very intentional about engaging in successful, evidence-based programs.”

This article is part of the 2020 Higher Education Review Magazine.