With more than 600 education technologists and software architects on staff, LearningMate has been making fast inroads into big data for education. The Arizona Department of Education (ADE), for instance, has leveraged LearningMate’s expertise to streamline technology costs while reaching students with effective, data-driven learning solutions.

ADE recognized the need to equip districts, schools, teachers, policy makers and parents with reliable data to boost student achievement and teacher effectiveness. “The data was available but often inaccessible due to siloed systems, and there was not an effective data-analysis model to support fast decision-making,” says Amit Soman, LearningMate’s v-p for enterprise solutions, pointing out that a comprehensive and integrated learning and accountability system is needed to crunch the numbers and make sense of it. The resulting improvements to data collection, analysis and access tools came under the purview of the Arizona Education Learning and Accountability System, or AELAS.

Soman and his team partnered with ADE CIO—and winner at Computerworld’s 2014 Premier 100 CIO award—Mark Masterson to determine the department’s strengths and weaknesses with regards to technology in order to reinforce their effectiveness and drive systemic improvements. The team uncovered almost 170 different and often redundant applications across multiple program areas that were negatively impacting data availability and data integrity. Says Masterson: “In order for AELAS to be truly successful, we had to unlock that data’s potential. Arizona’s implementation of the Common Education Data Standards will create a unified view of data at ADE and across the state.”

With the application portfolio rationalization work underway, the LearningMate team then turned its focus on the requirements, strategy, execution, and the business case that could effect the funding of AELAS. “We started from the beginning: defining the components of a learning and accountability system that supports evidence-based responsibility while facilitating professional learning opportunities and actionable feedback to the learner,” adds Soman.

“In order for AELAS to work, it has to define the context of accountability. Then, the system must be built on a foundation of aligned components—objectives, assessments, instruction, resources and rewards or sanctions. Next came the technical aspects, which must meet the high standards established by federal government and the education industry. The system must be a catalyst for positive change, aiding highly accurate real-time data to allow the best possible decision-making,” Soman explains.

From the initial interview of 200 local education agencies [LEAs]—representing 30% of districts and charter schools—the team was able to tell that very small LEAs pay seven times more than very large LEAs for software licenses per user. “Implementing AELAS could enable LEAs to recover up to 50% of their software costs,” says Soman, adding that LEAs are in a constant reactionary mode because keeping up with changes in education technology means revamping every five years. “This translates into at least $281 million spent every five years on software licenses and implementation. Moreover, LEAs cannot effectively share data with each other and the ADE because their separate IT ecosystems prohibit easy integration of technologies. This has resulted in over 600 independent, disparate and disconnected LEAs.”

A business case was then built to enlist stakeholder support for ADE’s vision since the initial AELAS mandate came without funding from the state legislature. “LearningMate provided me with the data and information needed to present a thoughtful funding discussion to legislators, non-profit education foundations and grant entities. Our partnership helped define the benefits of an integrated accountability system based on agile technology built for growth. Ultimately, AELAS is all about providing what’s best for Arizona’s kids,” says Masterson. “The thoughtful architecture and common systems built in partnership with LearningMate’s education technology experts can potentially save ADE and LEAs nearly $260 million. I believe educators can put that savings to better use within the classroom itself.”

Over two years, the overhauled school payment system has reduced processing time by 75%. The system also completed on-time student counts for the first time in a decade with vast improvement seen in reporting processes and metrics. Components such as Student-Teacher-Course Connection—aimed at creating visibility and transparency into educational progress of students and those who inspire them—and the secure one-click ADEConnect portal to various education-related applications, are now in full swing. The Arizona Department of Education has a vision for high-quality education intelligence—integrated data and analytics—to deliver ‘real-time’ actionable information to education stakeholders that would benefit college and career-ready students. LearningMate is partnering with ADE to realize this vision.