By KAYLA RUTLEDGE
GSN Staff Writer

Newly developed interactive software may be putting Arizona at the forefront of modernized decision-making K-12 education. The technology could have a positive impact on the state’s graduation and college-entry rates.

Arizona State University and the Helios Education Foundation last week unveiled the product of their effort to give public officials and administrators a more effective use of education data.

“The goal is transparency — trying to put the data out there so that you can look at it and decide in your own communities, in your own schools and your own districts what needs to be changed or how you need to go about affecting change and move it forward,” said Vince Yanez, Helios’ senior vice president of Arizona Community Engagement Vince Yanez.

Yanez addressed a large gathering of municipal, school district and other officials from across the state in unveiling the software.

Arizona is the only state in the nation to have captured enough data and compile it into software that produces a real-time, interactive K-12 modeling of data for schools — both public and charter.

The data includes students’ performance and graduation rates, income levels of their families and school financial data and even health statistics such as lead-paint exposure.

The software, though still in its infancy, can be used by officials to identify ways they could improve student performance as well as highlight which schools are good examples to follow, Yanez said.

It can also show how income levels impact the number of high school grads who continue their education.

Joseph O’Reilly, director of the Decision Center for Educational Excellence, said while the state has goals of an 84 percent graduation rate and a continuing education goal of 70 percent of all high school graduates, local officials have had no way to determine their own standards based on data from their schools.

“If I was a city council person, I would want data on how my area is doing,” said O’Reilly.

He said if officials can determine “where individual schools are and where they are going,” they can develop ways to improve student outcomes and thus “significantly better community outcomes, and family outcomes and state outcomes.”.

Users can select the criteria they want to examine — such as poverty rates — and series of statistics and detailed reports follow.

In a matter of seconds, users are exposed to data compiled from the Arizona Department of Education, U.S. Census Bureau, National Center for Educational Statistics, FBI, Environmental Protection Administration, U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and individual Arizona schools.

Users can then probe everything from which jobs are most popular in certain areas and what level of education they require, to how exposure to lead paint and violence can affect graduation and college-going rates throughout the state.

The tool can also show trends over time and compare schools, districts and regions in regard to testing scores, literacy rates, graduation percentages and likelihood of college attendance.

ASU and Helios have already made three major discoveries since compiling the data from the agencies utilized in the software.

There is no correlation between poverty rates and high school graduation rates throughout the state.

For every 10 percent increase in college aid application completions, there is a 2.7 percent increase in the rate of high school graduates who actually continue their education.

Accelerated learning in one-third of Arizona schools is stunted by inadequate student access to programs such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, dual enrollment or calculus courses.

The software’s user-friendly design makes digesting the information less daunting to users and more compelling to city officials, said Chandler City Council Member Matt Orlando, who attended the session.

“This is powerful, it’s a powerful tool,” said Orlando. “Chandler does have a lot of industries and they are clamoring for the next generation’s scientists and engineers…So we are actively looking at how to improve our graduation rates and work with the school district and this a great way to do that.”

The center currently utilizes data from the class of 2016 because it takes time for the various types of schools the state has — public, charter, specialty and online — to collect and publish information, O’Reilly said.

As new information from the class of 2017 is published, the database will be updated, which will help track trends over time, O’Reilly said.

While ASU and Helios have made strides in making Arizona’s education data  more accessible and easier to understand, the software is not available to the public.

Those seeking to access the tool must make an appointment with O’Reilly for the time being, as the Decision Center has not yet decided if the software will be made available to the public or if it will only be accessible to officials and education-related experts.