Aspire Public Schools, the state’s largest charter school organization, is giving away a spoonful of its secret sauce and hinting that more free stuff is coming.
This week, Aspire announced that it is making available a student performance analysis tool, called Schoolzilla (as in “Attack your school’s data”), to school districts statewide. This feature enables educators to compare and visualize California Standardized Tests data in quicker and cleaner ways than they could before.
By uploading CST files to a server that Aspire is hosting, a district can compare two-year test results among its schools in depth. Individual teachers can do custom analyses of their students’ results by subjects and individual strands (for example, in math, operations with fractions and decimals or functions and rational expressions), looking for common patterns and areas of improvement. The system enables districts to upload files and produce information within minutes.
Aspire has focused extensively on data use. It has developed a comprehensive database connecting 20 data systems that include student attendance, behavior, and measurements of achievement (CSTs are but one), school financial information, personnel evaluations, and other organizational metrics. It has created dashboards for principals and teachers that provide useful information on schoolwide and individual student goals, as well as an academic tracker that traces secondary students’ progress towards graduation. The data systems were developed over four years with teachers’ input, said Lynzi Ziegenhagen, Aspire’s vice president of technology. Aspire, based in Oakland, operates 34 charter schools in California.
One school district administrator who took up Aspire’s invitation to do a trial run with Schoolzilla is Rob van Herk, director of technology services for Alameda Unified School District. He called it “an incredibly powerful tool that makes it easy to slice and dice data and drill down by subgroups.” So a principal can instantly compare similar schools, looking for common points of improvement or differences in specific areas, he said.
Even more useful, van Herk said, would be access to the platform connecting the other data systems, so that districts could take advantage of the suite of tools that Aspire has created.
Ziegenhagen said Herk’s wish may come true. Foundations that funded the development of the data tools, including the Gates Foundation, did so with the intent of encouraging the spread of the charter organization’s innovations with other public schools. The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation is underwriting the cost of setting up a separate server and assistance to share Schoolzilla. So far 86 schools – 49 charter and 38 district schools – are using it. Aspire also received a highly competitive $3 million grant to develop online tools to assist teachers with The College Ready Promise, a new teacher evaluation and professional development system.
“We began with the CST tool because we knew people care about it,” Ziegenhagen said. “This is a conversation starter.”