When Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced in November that she would end the city’s contract with Amplify for the maintenance of ARIS, the system that provided a one-stop shop for student data, we were assured that the city would develop an “ARIS replacement.” And while the city has told principals that the new system will be ready by September, as one of the relatively few teachers who used ARIS, I wish that replacement would make its appearance sooner.
Since its creation under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, critics of ARIS contended that it was overly expensive, poorly designed, and hard to use. Indeed, ARIS’s demise elicited “cheers from educators and parents who found the system never quite delivered on its promise.”
The chancellor’s decision aligns with her efforts to steer the school system away from how it was run under Bloomberg. She has dismissed his focus on data to assess student needs, instead urging educators to create caring school environments that make it possible maintain strong relationships with parents and students.
But data should be viewed as central to that mission. As one of the 16 percent of teachers (and 3 percent of parents) who used ARIS, I can say that taking advantage of the data system supported my efforts to nurture my students. I found the jubilation over ARIS’s demise to be misplaced; the real problem, I think, was that so few educators and parents used what was an extremely valuable dashboard of data.
Was ARIS overpriced? I think so. Was it perfect? Absolutely not. But at least it was one place where I could immediately access an overview of a student’s attendance and administrative records, demographic information, and testing from state and school exams. Now, in order to gather similar information, I would have to harass my school secretary for attendance printouts, dig through various spreadsheets, and log into multiple other systems.
How did I use all of this data? It was integral to the work of my entire staff. We conduct a Student Work Analysis protocol on a regular basis within each grade-level team. Having access to test scores over time — coupled with other aggregated points of data — can provide powerful insight that we would not be able to glean just from student work and teacher observation.
Viewing aggregated student data allows for a more objective identification of patterns and trends. Why has one student steadily declined in math scores each year since third grade? Why did another student’s test score in reading rise drastically last year? Why was this student’s attendance 84 percent in fourth grade? How does this information align with or contradict what we observe in the classroom or in the student’s work?
We are then able to probe further through an examination of the student’s work, discussion of classroom observations, and surveys of the parent and student. As an example, a student’s test scores in a certain year might present an anomaly, such as a sudden drop. This provides a point of further exploration. Why did scores dip that year? Often, the answers to that question provide meaningful insight into the social and emotional needs of a student. When asked, a student or parent may speak about episodes of domestic violence in the home that year, or a divorce that was occurring. This trauma is not always volunteered automatically by a student or parent, for obvious reasons, but can become apparent through data gathered over time. And once possible causes are identified, the option for counseling to provide further social and emotional support may then be explored.
Without access to the aggregated data, educators would not be able to gain such important insight as swiftly.
Having student data readily accessible to educators and parents should be seen as a right, not as an option dependent solely on the political whims of the current administration. The more information that educators have, the more equipped we are in serving our students based on real need, rather than vague and possibly biased perceptions.
I know Chancellor Fariña wants teachers like me to address students’ academic and emotional needs and make school a safe, caring place for them. With ARIS’s disappearance, I have one fewer tool to do just that. I hope that promised replacement will indeed be on its way soon.