A question was posed at a school district meeting several month ago: Exactly how many Métis students are enrolled in Abbotsford schools?
Angus Mackay, assistant superintendent of the Abbotsford School District, was able to get an answer to the question in under an hour – thanks to the “data dashboard.”
“I was able to go to our data analyst. He goes away and half an hour later, I have a new filter,” Mackay said during a recent school board meeting. “[The filter] will tell me [which Indigenous students live] on reserve, off reserve and their specific band.
“We actually have Inuit students in our district. We have nine or 11 Inuit students!”
The data dashboard is another name for Power BI, a business analytics service developed by Microsoft, which the school district is putting to use. It has streamlined how student information is accessed by administrators, according to Perry Smith, director of instruction for the school district.
“We’re just happy to have something that puts data in our hands that we can use to inform our practice. Data is really great,” Smith said.
“I really consider it like a district map. Instead of streets and houses and organizations on the map, it’s kids and information about them so that we can make better decisions on how to staff schools and how to allocate resources.”
For the last three years, the dashboard has allowed the district’s senior management to easily look at the demographic trends of their student body. Student performance, report card data, foundations skills assessments and attendance records can be easily accessed by administrators with the proper clearance for those records.
“[The dashboard] was something that emerged from a want of really accessible data information that had a user interface that was really friendly,” Smith said. “We’ve had other data warehouses that could look at data, but they were super clunky.
“The implementation is growing among our management staff.”
This student data is then used with qualitative information about schools and students to guide official decisions, Smith said.
An example of how the dashboard can help guide the decision-making process was seen at the school board meeting on Jan. 14. Trustees were reviewing the academic progress of their middle school students and found Indigenous students had disproportionately high absences, and received disciplinary action at a much higher rate.
“I can’t think of a single principal or vice-principal in middle school that I would ever dream is prejudiced or unfair,” Mackay said. “That speaks to me of institutional bias, institutional inequity.”
The dashboard also showed that 14 per cent of Indigenous students choose to take integrated arts programs over all the other choice programs available for students, and their academic performance and attendance is higher there.
“How much have we done to explore the difference between the achievements … of those kids at the integrated arts programs in terms of their service delivery, their outcomes and their behaviour … versus the students who are in mainstream programming?” said vice-chair of the board, Rhonda Pauls.
“What do we know about Indigenous culture? They’re storytellers, they’re performers, they’re musicians, they love nature, they love the outdoors. They embody integrated arts as a culture. This was an aha moment for me.”
Mackay said the dashboard is an important tool for the district.
“The whole purpose of collecting data is not to put it in a binder and put it on a shelf. It needs to be used on a regular basis by teachers, by principals, by vice-principals to guide our practice, to inform our instruction,” Mackay said. “That’s the power of the dashboard.”