Purdue system keeps tabs on student achievement

David MacAnally/Eyewitness News

West Lafayette - As classes start at Purdue, it's a little like the old game "red light green light." Except in this case, it's a serious goal to help students succeed.

Sophomore Isaiah Johnson was puzzled when he logged into Purdue's student website one day last semester.

"A stop light appeared, said I was in red group and I didn't know what it was," he said. It was Purdue's new Signals system signaling him that he was in trouble.

"I slacked off at the beginning of class, missed a couple homework assignments but I didn't think it was a big deal," Johnson admitted.

Last semester, when the sophomore logged on to his class website and saw that red light, he contacted his professor and learned he was part of a pilot test of Signals, which tracks student performance like never before.

Purdue's Kimberly Arnold says a key factor in the system is that it collects key information from sources across campus so quickly the traffic light can change color daily.

"It's using all of this big wealth of data that we're sitting on" and using it to predict student performance. It uses data entered into computers every day by professors from quiz scores to homework and more.

Math instructor Tim Delworth has up to 900 students sometimes, making feedback a challenge.

"This allows me through data mining to give my students good feedback early on in the semester. Usually we wouldn't know 'til after the first exam how they were doing," said Delworth.

Now he can give specific help early on, plus study help aimed at changing that student's behavior.

"We do a lot in education to help kids at the top and do a lot to help kids at the bottom. This is designed to help kids in the middle - making C and D students into B and C students," said Delworth.

"It really gives you the opportunity to connect with your teacher and start working and focusing harder so you can raise your grade before it is too late," said Johnson.

7,000 students will use the Signals program this year in introductory courses.

During testing, two out of three students getting yellow or red lights improved their grades.

Purdue hopes to patent the system and share it with other schools, including high schools.

You can learn more about SIGNALS tomorrow on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, or click here.