Next Wave Ideas – Data is Beautiful: Using Students’ Responses to Improve Education

By Ken Hausam, Founder of GradeStats.com

About four years ago, my wife Suzanne, who at the time was an elementary school math coach teacher in the Saratoga Springs district, was lamenting the lack of useful student performance data for her grade level data meetings. The engineer and problem solver in me immediately set about trying to develop a solution; and thus GradeStats was born. The first version consisted of little more than some spreadsheet processing, but over time GradeStats developed into a full SaaS based web application supporting customized bubble sheets, online assessments and direct integration with the district’s student information system.

For a while now, one of the big pushes in education has been personalized learning. It’s no longer enough to just identify which students need extra help, but also the specific areas where they need that help. For all the negative press that Common Core received in the media a few years ago, it did serve to establish a set of universal standards by which students can be evaluated in a particular subject. GradeStats is able to empirically prove that competency in one set of standards does not necessarily correlate to aptitude in the subject as a whole. It also supports and enables the idea that all students have the potential to increase their proficiency, rather than just those below a certain average threshold.

In addition to personalized learning, the data that GradeStats collects allows administrators to look at variations within their district and make improvements. This is possible because all of the teachers in the district are administering the same assessments. Teachers may read this and think: “Oh no, they’re going to use this to judge me.” But here’s the reality: you’re going to be judged anyway. It might as well be fair and impartial. As an example, Saratoga Springs uses GradeStats to gain a more thorough understanding of the results of the pre-assessment administered at the beginning of the school year to determine how well the students retained the material taught to them in the previous year. This serves to level the playing field and establish a baseline before the school year has even begun. Ultimately, it is up to school administrators to focus on using the data for positive rather than punitive measures and reassure teachers that everyone has the same goal.

“Data is Beautiful” is a popular sub on the website Reddit. It’s filled with examples of insights and observations, often unexpected, made by regular people trying to gain a better understanding of the world we live in. But it is important to remember that the data itself is simply a means to an end, not the end game itself. The reason for collecting all of this data is always to make informed, and therefore hopefully better, decisions. It goes back to the scientific method that was drilled into our heads as students: hypothesis, experiment, measure and analysis. GradeStats currently enables the measurement and analysis steps at a much deeper level than was previously possible. Future versions will likely even be able to suggest hypotheses and experiments through the application of machine learning on the collected data.

Ken Hausam is the president of Vaxem Enterprises LLC and the founder of GradeStats, a software product born out of a partnership with Saratoga Springs City School District administrators and teachers in 2015. Ken has been solving problems through code for over 20 years in Saratoga County. His previous work has spanned many verticals including manufacturing, entertainment, healthcare and security. In addition to his work with the Saratoga district on GradeStats, he also enjoys working with the district’s next generation of engineers as a guest teacher for their computer science classes. When not sitting behind a computer, you might find Ken outside running, biking, camping or kayaking with his wife, Suzanne, and their three children.