School principal builds Power Platform solution to improve reading assessments
In this post we learn about Lauren Taylor, an educator who built a Power Platform solution to improve the reading assessment process for students and educators. Lauren is an Assistant Principal at Manitou Park Elementary, part of the Tacoma Public Schools district that’s located in the state of Washington in the United States. Lauren has no formal IT background. She learned the Power Platform technologies – PowerApps, Microsoft Flow and Power BI on her own, and used them along with SharePoint Online and Microsoft Teams to enable teachers to capture detailed information about student reading levels that was simply not available earlier. The solution is currently in use at one school with the potential to go district-wide in the future.
Tacoma schools use the DRA2 (Developmental Reading Assessment, 2nd Edition) where teachers sit and read with students to assess their reading level and abilities. They systematically observe, record and evaluate how a student’s reading performance changes over time, and use it to set reading goals for the student to focus on. The assessment is performed three times a year with ongoing progress monitoring approximately once a month. According to Lauren, the one-on-one time that teachers spend with students is time consuming but worth it.
Teachers and administrators needed a digital solution to record and organize detailed information about student reading levels so they could better assist individual students and view aggregate data across the classroom to enable better grouping of students.
Before Power Platform – process, challenges and opportunities
To complete the DRA2 assessment, teachers have a big paper packet with a list of questions that they fill out, along with a scoring rubric. A single score is then recorded digitally in a district-wide electronic system while the rest of the information is only captured on paper. Since capturing the additional information was not required, some teachers recorded just the score and no more.
Some of the key challenges with this process were:
- Rich information from the assessment (beyond a single number) was not being captured in any structured manner. It was not easily accessible later.
- Teachers would come up with the final score (e.g. 28) and set a goal (e.g. 30), but it was never clear what’s behind the score. What does the individual child really need to get from 28 to 30?
- Children were put into groups based solely on the single number, which was not always ideal.
- It was time consuming to sift through papers. So although the paper forms were readily available they were not always used to determine student and class reading goals.
Power Platform solution – DRA App
Lauren Taylor, Assistant Principal at Manitou Park Elementary, had some prior knowledge in Power BI. She had played around with dashboards but as such had no formal IT training. In the summer of 2018, Lauren was exploring products in the Office 365 suite. She discovered Flow and explored using it to automate getting data into Power BI. While speaking with someone at Microsoft he asked if she had heard of PowerApps. Initially Lauren was hesitant but as she was learning SharePoint, she learned how to make a list and discovered the “Create an App” button in the SharePoint list.
Teachers using Power BI dashboards and printing dashboards from multiple years to compare and discuss
She went on to tell her principal, “I think I can make a PowerApp to get my DRA data visualized”. She showed her the initial version, and they decided to roll it out in a month. The first version was rolled out in Nov 2018. They got teachers together, who took their existing DRA2 packets and loaded the data using the PowerApp. Teachers use the PowerApp to enter detailed information from each student’s reading assessment, beyond a single number, such as oral reading goals, comprehension goals, etc.
The teachers access the PowerApp from their mobile device or Surfaces provided by the school.
Screenshots of PowerApps solution
For Lauren, the aha moment came when she saw how she could make an awesome Power BI dashboard to view her DRA data. She, along with the staff, go into the dashboard and with a couple clicks group students based on different categories such as comprehension or oral reading goals. They were pleased to be able to do all this without needing to interrupt the teacher.
Power BI dashboard to visualize data collected from the PowerApp
Lauren used Flow to add SharePoint list items into Power BI, so the dashboard is always up to date. She used the “Visualize classroom walkthrough data” template from the Flow template gallery which made it quick and easy to create the flow.
In addition, Lauren has several standalone flows to automate day to day tasks. As one example, she setup a flow that lets teachers know when she’s left feedback for them in OneNote.
Embedding in Microsoft Teams:
Lauren started an initiative to get all her teachers on Teams to improve efficiency. They are now fully on Teams and use it every day to communicate and share information. The DRA PowerApp and Power BI dashboards are embedded as tabs within Teams, making it easy to access without leaving an experience they’re already familiar with.
PowerApp running embedded within a Teams tab
Power BI dashboard running embedded within a Teams tab
Benefits from using the Power Platform
In a recent interview, Lauren talked about the different ways in which the DRA solution has benefited teachers, students and administrators, and shared her excitement around the potential of the Power Platform for her school and district.
Q: How has the DRA app helped your teachers?
“Teachers can access and use data much more quickly than they could in the past (less time gathering data, more time using it). Intervention teachers who collaborate with classroom teachers now have access to reading data that they did not have immediate access to before. If interventionists wanted to change student groups, better target their instruction or make instructional decisions, they had to wait for teacher availability. While the two still collaborate, the Power Platform saves us time by providing accessibility to data to make in-the-moment decisions.”
Q: How has the DRA app helped your students?
“Students will benefit from the app by so many adults having access to their targeted reading needs. Our overarching goal is to use student data to help students, not use it to give administrators and teachers a headache. Now that is possible. Anybody in the building can sit down with a student and help them.”
Q: How has the DRA app helped administrators?
“As an administrator, I can see what my building needs. The admin team has access to reading data in a way that we simply did not have before. As a note, prior to our Power Platform solution, all of this very specific reading data was kept typically in a physical file in the classroom teacher’s room. If you wanted to know what a student needed, you needed to interrupt the teacher to get it and to have the data for yourself meant making copies of the packet and having your own physical storage system…accessibility was zero.”
Q: What else has the Power Platform enabled you do to do that you couldn’t do before?
“With the student profiles on the apps, admin and other staff can now “share” students so that anyone at any time can open a book to read with a student and know exactly what that student may need. During admin walkthroughs, we give teachers feedback on their instruction and then open the app, find a student, sit, read and provide feedback. We could not do that in any sort of targeted way before. The most that we could say is, “nice job, Johnny”. Now we can say, “Johnny, I notice that your goal is prediction… what do you think this book will be about?”
“Our district level Continuous Achievement Plan team does walkthroughs in the building three times per year. They also have access to the app and are encouraged to confer with students during their walkthroughs.”
Q: What do you envision yourself doing in the future with the Power Platform?
“Right now, I’m working on a Teacher Command Center App. I’m hoping to have a place where teachers can have a gradebook, student data (Power BI), common core standards, attached lesson plans and resources all in one place. I also envision student apps that may or may not relate to this teacher desktop so that students can monitor their own goals and progress. I would also like to create an app that better streamlines our behavior referrals. I’ve also looked into Brian Dang’s reading fluency app and possibly getting my instructional coach trained with PowerApps so we can switch over our 1-on-1 reading assessments into a digital format. This will allow teachers to give the assessments on the app (future capability) as well as score the assessments in the app (currently capability). So basically, expanding on what we have currently.”
Lauren tweets about her experience with Office 365 and the Power Platform – @LTaylorEdu
Mobile PowerApp used by teachers to capture detailed information from DRA2 assessments in a structured manner – several dropdown choices based on certain pre-set criteria. All data is stored in a SharePoint Online list and visualized in Power BI. The app and dashboard are also embedded in Teams for easy access.