Cloud-based student information systems help schools confront data deluge


Now more than ever, data matters in K-12 education. But the ability to capture and use student performance data in new ways is changing how educators teach and assess the progress of students.

Administrators and teachers are turning away from high-stakes testing and relying more on competency-based learning, aligned with standards, to differentiate what students need, says Andrew Herman, co-founder and CEO of Alma, a cloud-based, K-12 software and interface company launched in February 2014.

However, one of the main problems districts face, Herman says, is that as schools shift to project-based learning and progressive teaching practices, older computing systems can’t always keep up with all the data or translate it to be “understood and digested” by administrators, teachers, students and parents as a means to improve student outcomes.

Large-scale data management

Student Information Systems are at the core of district management, but the amount of data they must handle and report has increased significantly since districts first began using them. Herman estimates that there are more than 1 million records generated for every 10,000 students annually.

As the volume of data has escalated, so have the challenges of extracting data from the main system and adapting the most up-to-date tools and tracking technology for school district superintendents and CIOs.

And as standards-based grading becomes more complicated — less dependent on simple letter or number grades and more focused on extensive rubrics — schools need more sophisticated tools to produce progress reports and report cards, he says.

There can be a tremendous burden on districts that rely on legacy systems lacking modern architecture to fully handle integration and migration of data, Herman says.

“We knew this was something people were struggling with when we launched,” he says.

With older systems, districts often have to wait for almost a year to make internal changes, depending upon major system updates and new releases. By offering a cloud-based approach, Herman says, Alma’s technology allows for releases every few weeks for incremental, rather than massive changes, says Herman. “It’s a pace of change that end users can keep up with,” he says.

Alma combines student management capabilities for administrators with accessible information for stakeholders such as teachers, parents and students. In a sense, it’s two systems in one.

Additionally, newer-generation, cloud-based platforms like Alma’s provide greater security control, allowing districts, for instance, to customize privacy settings by school or by district, depending upon district needs and policies, says Herman.

Many older systems are hosted on local servers, putting them at greater risk, while Alma’s is a remotely-hosted system, he says, adding, his backend team comes from the banking world and is well versed in modern technological security.

While he won’t disclose specifics about districts that have switched to the new software, Alma is now used in forty states and 28 countries, says Herman.

While Alma makes administrators’ lives easier, it also impacts the most important stakeholders – students. They can track and adjust their projects and schedules and have access through their smartphones to a user-friendly interface, making them more active participants in their own educational experiences.