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States get mixed report card on using data to improve education

Kenneth Corbin | Nov. 21, 2014
School districts across the country are beginning to embrace data-driven strategies to improve accountability and transparency in the public education sector, but a new study finds that progress among the states has been widely uneven.

School districts across the country are beginning to embrace data-driven strategies to improve accountability and transparency in the public education sector, but a new study finds that progress among the states has been widely uneven.

Since 2005, the Data Quality Campaign, a group that advocates for harnessing school data to boost student achievement, has been canvasing statehouses to gauge their efforts to tie together disparate and often siloed information sets measuring areas like student proficiency and school and district performance.

Aimee Guidera, the DQC's executive director, credits many states for modernizing their data architectures and implementing some of the 10 recommendations the group has set out to achieve the vision of synchronized and publicly available education information.

"It is another world from when we first started compiling state progress through the survey nine years ago, and the investments states have made are beginning to make a difference in classrooms," Guidera writes in the foreword to the group's 10th annual report.

When the DQC first began conducting its survey in 2005, "few states even had the basic elements of a data system in place to even start beginning to answer these questions," Guidera told reporters on a conference call.

At the same time, implementation of the group's recommendations -- which include initiatives such as linking data systems across schools and districts and developing governance structures -- remains a work in progress.

This year's survey identified Kentucky as the third state to act on all 10 DQC recommendations, joining Arkansas and Delaware.

The group also singled out Massachusetts for its efforts to pool together school data in a format that parents can easily access through what the state calls its District Analysis and Review Tools site, or DART. Through that tool, parents can quickly check to see how their child's school compares to others in the district and across the state in terms of measures like academic achievement and enrollment, according to Carrie Conway, associate commissioner for planning, research and delivery systems at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

"Pretty much every data series we collect is aggregated to that school and district level," Conway says, "so that every parent can arm themselves with information about their community."

Over the years, the DQC survey has identified a steep uptick in advancing education data as a policy priority at the state level. In 2009, the group found that just eight states had allocated funding for their data systems; in this year's survey, that number had soared to 41.

The number of states providing publicly accessible feedback reports for high schools has followed a similar trajectory, spiking from 12 in 2009 to 41 this year.

 

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