The Education Analyst

Update: Since a number of teachers have been asking for this, I have posted the Words Their Way PSI and ESI Graders for download.

About a month ago, Rachel, who is student teaching in a 1st grade classroom, was sitting in our living room grading a spelling test for her students. She explained that grading the tests was very time consuming because every word was scored differently – the students received points based on getting parts of each word right.

She was filling out a score sheet for each student, going through word-by-word and assigning points for 3-4 different parts of each word (e.g. the first letter, a pair of letters in the middle, that last two letters, etc.). After she spent half an hour on two student’s grade sheets I realized:

(3-4 parts scored per word) x (26 words) x (26 students) + adding and sorting all of the students scores by hand = a whole lot of unnecessary manual work

So I built her a spreadsheet that did the manual work for her. Using excel logic formulas I made a grid that searches for each of the word parts in the words and give the student the right number of points. All she had to do was type in the words as the child had spelled it, and the points auto-calculate. I also built a simple summary report on another tab to automatically add up and sort the data by student.

Rachel’s grading time went from 15+ min per student down to about 2 min per student. The accuracy of the scores likely improved, since she wasn’t manually adding up all of the numbers by hand for every student with pencil and paper. The final product was aesthetically better, more accurate, and more usable than the pencil and paper report – it could be sorted to show where the students fell for each spelling component tested.

Rachel’s cooperating teacher uses the report frequently to tailor their lessons to the students’ needs based on the assessment. She also shared my workbook with the other teachers at her school, some of whom are now using it too – one even sent Rachel home with information about copyrighting computer programs, since they think it could be worth selling.

I’m not looking to sell the workbook I spent less than an hour building, but for me, this highlighted a huge need for our educators. The people teaching our kids are putting a ton of work into manual processes, and they are doing it because they love what they do and they want to do a great job. But we are doing these teachers, and our students, a disservice by not helping them critically analyze and automate these “back office” processes, so that they can be more efficient and effective.

I spent less than an hour building a workbook that has already saved Rachel and another teacher over 10 combined hours. It will likely save teachers much more time as it is used in future years and by more teachers. Imagine if the school had someone like me identifying and addressing opportunities like this full-time. Imagine how fixing these processes for individual teachers and schools could scale to fill the data gaps entire school systems have. Improving data and reporting at the classroom level could help to improve education as a whole.

The idea is not radical or new; it echoes the cries for data and analysis that are heard at every level in education right now. And this is a great thing. But how can we expect teachers to buy in to a data-centric education model if they haven’t seen it work in their own classrooms? If they haven’t seen how empirical insight translates into better results? For this reason, we should focus on empowering teachers with data that helps them be more efficient and effective. When the classroom seamlessly runs on data, the entire system will follow.

How could we make this happen? Where do you find the people who can improve classroom processes and data? The good news is that there is a large group of people with this analytical skill set, perhaps even a surplus, sitting in just about every large company in the country. Many of those analysts would love to have the chance to add meaningful value to society through education work, and they represent a huge value proposition to the school that would hire one. The skill set isn’t rare, but schools would have to recognize the need.

The best way to improve classroom process, data, reporting, decisions and outcomes may be with a new type of educator: the education analyst.

4 thoughts on “The Education Analyst

  1. David Shain

    Good job Nathaniel!!!

    It's surprising that a school system would even purchase and implement a spelling program that takes so much time. My sister is a principal in CA, and her teachers have also complained about this program.

    There is a very robust open software culture on the internet that develops very complicated projects with “donated” labor. It would be cool if there were a place where teachers could post problems that needed solutions, and a group of technology people could band together to solve them. (like the Kahn Academy)

    Good job!!!


  2. Thanks David! That's a great point about open source – I bet there are a lot of folks out there who could help build this stuff for free if teachers/schools could share the needs.

    Especially for programs like this one where there are lots of teachers with the exact same problem; someone could (and maybe already did) develop a more sophisticated solution, and it may just be a matter of sharing it more efficiently.


  3. Hello!

    I am also a first grade teacher and I think I may use the same spelling program that you eluded to in your post. I also spend so much time scoring assessments like the one you mentioned, along with countless others for the 28 students I teach.

    I applaud your efforts to bring awareness to how simply, yet challenging, it is to allow educators to do the important work and create systems that reduce some of the more tedius tasks.

    If you'd like to send me the spreadsheet you created, I would be grateful!



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