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August 29, 2014

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School District’s new data collection system ‘will change the way we teach students’

If you ask a principal at a Las Vegas high school to tell you how many students aren't on track to graduate, expect to wait a while to get an answer.

The principal has to print out thousands of transcripts and manually count the number of pupils who are credit-deficient or failed the high school proficiency exam. That could take hours, if not days.

This fall, that will change. The Clark County School District is launching a new student information system, Infinite Campus, which will replace a host of student data and payroll systems.

Infinite Campus is expected to cost the district $21 million over the next decade. The School Board approved its contract in 2011, after a third-party efficiency study found the old system — SASI — was no longer supported by its vendor and "cannot support long-term needs to measure student performance."

District officials say Infinite Campus will revolutionize the way educators use data to teach students and track their academic progress.

"Data dashboards" can provide administrators and teachers with academic information, drilled down from schoolwide and grade levels to individual classrooms and students. Using "data visualizations," schools can quickly figure out which subjects are the most challenging, which teachers are the most effective and which students are at risk of dropping out.

"This is about providing information so principals can get insight into what's going on at their school," Justin White, one of the district's data services coordinators, told the School Board this week.

Infinite Campus will go live in early August, with features rolled out to school administrators, teachers and parents in phases. To ensure the system works, the School District is updating 50,000 computers to the Windows 7 operating system and installing 5,700 new computers in schools.

By the 2015-16 school year, parents will be able to use the system's "Campus Portal" to enroll their children; manage individual education plans; pay computer fees and for school lunches; and monitor student grades, attendance and assignments.

"This is a single-source data management system," said Jhone Ebert, the district's chief innovation officer. "Student data will not be in a spreadsheet housed in some computer. This is going to be very actionable data where principals, teachers and parents can see how their students are doing."

"This is not a little bit of reform; this is a paradigm shift," School Board member Deanna Wright said. "This will change the way we teach students."

However, in the wake of data and privacy breaches, there's growing concern nationally about the security of these online and connected student information systems. In 2005, hackers broke into a UNLV server, compromising visa information on about 5,000 international students and scholars.

Infinite Campus, which manages 6.5 million student records in 43 states, has had three "inadvertent disclosures of small amounts of data" in the past decade, according to Eric Creighton, its chief operating officer. The breaches occurred during training sessions, when a presenter accidentally showed a screenshot of an actual student's data.

"Student data privacy is paramount to our success as a company," Creighton said. "The only sure-proof way to prevent data breaches is to not collect it."

As Clark County launches its student information system, the Nevada Education Department is beginning to develop a statewide system that will likely pull student information from Clark County's Infinite Campus system. The state received more than $9 million in federal and state grant money to develop the system, which will track students' academic progress from preschool until they enter the workforce.

Proponents argue it will help policymakers determine which education programs are working.

Critics question whether such a system is necessary and whether the state is collecting too much information on students. In response to these concerns, Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Dale Erquiaga ordered a review of the department's student privacy policies and data sharing agreements with third-party companies.

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