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College Access Data & Salesforce: Best Practices From Spark

By November 14, 2016

By: Kristi Phillips, Education Solution Consultant, Exponent Partners

Our data-driven client Spark connects underserved middle school students with transformative apprenticeships to improve their school performance. Spark engages students with their passion, purpose, identity, and other key aspects of motivation, fueling better school performance. Their students consistently graduate above the national average.

Spark was able to amplify its work using a program management system on the Salesforce platform. Here’s how the organization approached using data to improve their programs and how their systems has supported it:

1) Think About Your Data Strategy First to Fit Your System

Spark had Salesforce within their first two years as an organization, but were not maximizing its potential. “For us it was about figuring out why we were collecting these pieces of data, and what the story was that it was going to tell, not only external people, but our staff,” says Dwyer.

“I always try to draw people back to the success that we’ve had with Salesforce, which I think has been central to driving our growth as a program and improving our results over time,” says Dwyer.

“But it wasn’t just that we used Salesforce, it was that we first agreed on what that structure or base looked like and what the information was going into it. Then we were able to leverage the tool to get us there. That’s where people really started to see the value of it, and why it is better than an Excel spreadsheet.”

spark photo

2) Track the Quality of Your Data

Spark collects weekly check-in surveys from mentors and students which rate progress. This helps them maintain a pulse on how students are performing week over week, as well as key milestones. Though “with thousands of mentors, clearly, not everyone responds every week!” Dwyer says.

The organization is able to see higher level progress and maintain quality control of their data with dashboards. These aggregate mentor ratings from student records in Salesforce and auto-calculate a red, green, or yellow quality score from a formula based on ratings and availability of data.

The mentors fill out the weekly surveys through a form integrated with Salesforce. “They get an email each week, saying something like, ‘this week we’re doing networking, here’s some stuff to do, don’t forget to fill out your survey,’” says Dwyer. “Then when they fill out that survey, it goes into Salesforce, and aggregates into our quality formula.”

If data is missing it will drive down the quality score. “That quality score will draw out things like, this mentor is in the fourth week, we haven’t gotten any ratings from them,” says Dwyer. “Then the staff know to reach out to that person individually to confirm they’re okay and also collect the data. So the quality score helps to drive that data collection piece a lot, because the data is actionable. It’s helpful information for staff to do their jobs better.”

3) Use a System to Ensure Process and Program Adherence

Because their program relies on mentors, Spark places a high priority on mentor recruitment and background clearance. As they advanced in their Salesforce system usage, this process became tightly integrated.

Dwyer says, “We manage recruiting and clearing our mentors in Salesforce. Exponent Partners helped us with that a lot, to build in automation and better processes to push people through the recruitment pipeline. We’ve determined pieces of data that are critical to knowing a lot about this person, so we can find them a great match. Also we want to make sure their backgrounds are clear and it’s going to be an appropriate relationship for a student. Salesforce will draw out whether we’re missing a piece of data from a mentor.

“Our staff are able to use those dashboards as a to-do-list and working document in terms of who they need to follow up with. There’s a report that has fields for each piece. They can see what’s missing and which mentors are on our ‘clearance checklist’ for following up with.”

4) Connect Indicators to Results

Spark wanted to track student progress in their defined key indicators: social/emotional skills (which they call “Spark skills”) and mindset. To track Spark skills, the organization asks mentors to rate students’ skills before and after the program. “That gives us a sense from the mentor’s perspective of how much they thought the students grow and learn in those skills,” says Dwyer. To track mindset, Spark collects self-report surveys from students.

They have been richly rewarded for their tracking efforts. Dwyer notes, “Interestingly, through just working on those two pieces [social/emotional skills, mindset], and not working on any kind of academic activities with the students, we see increases in things like attendance and grades.

“The idea is that if we can get kids to believe that school is relevant to them, that they are capable of learning and getting better, and improving their academic performance, that they will [respond with action]. And we really see those kind of results in our performance impact data.”

In this process, Spark has become a role model of a data- and results-driven organization. “I think you should always be learning more about your impact and improving your measures, collecting more data and evolving them,” says Dwyer.

Read more about Spark’s story and many others: check out our new report series with National College Access Network (NCAN). Roadmap for Tracking Your Student Results: Program Data & Systems features practical tips for managing your college access data with a system.

Photo courtesy of Spark, used with permission.