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Data, Data, Everywhere

Released April 2003

Dallas, Texas -- One of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act requires states to test all students in grades 3 through 8 by 2005-06. The goal of testing is to provide educators, parents, and policy makers with better information to ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn. Many initiatives underway involve states, districts, and software developers in the challenge to not only secure accurate information, but analyze and deliver it to the people who need it.

"Often times, you have your gut feeling about why a school isn't making the progress that it should. Until you look at the data, you don't know," said Carla Wade, Education Specialist, Oregon Department of Education.

Single System Pioneers
In 1997, the state of Oregon launched the Database Initiative to coordinate school district financial reporting into a consistent, electronic format. The project was much more than an accounting exercise. The legislature wanted to answer fundamental questions: what is a quality education, what does it cost, and what do Oregonians expect from their public schools?
Through a phased approach, the state tackled financial information first, and then began to integrate aggregated program and student data.

"From that [the initial phase] it became clear that we needed information at a more granular level, the student and staff level," recalls Doug Kosty, Director of Technology and Information Resources Management. "Now we can look at school and district data, identify what programs they've been served by, and look at results over time."

In 2002, all 200 school districts in the state participated in the program, providing financial, student demographic and performance, infrastructure and other data. Districts can generate reports from the web-based system to review their data, compare it to other schools, and access prototype schools drawn from the best practices of all. (http://dbi.ode.state.or.us/reports.htm) Oregon's Quality Education Commission provides data analysis for legislative groups, the governor's budget office, research entities, and nonprofits.

50 Different Starting Points
"Using data to make good decisions is not new," said Linda Roberts, Educational Technology Consultant and former Director of the Office of Technology for the U.S. Department of Education. "What is new is the growing number of ways school leaders can collect the data more easily and more effectively." School leaders have to select appropriate and relevant information and metrics for inclusion.

In November 2002, Roberts moderated a panel of State Education Technology Directors at a Joint Forum convened by the Consortium for School Network (CoSN), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and the State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA) (http://www.iste.org/jointforum/index.cfm). She noted the diversity of state structures and approaches to the task. The 50 states have different constituents and circumstances, and operate with different degrees of centralization and local control.

To help administrators find their way through the array of options, CoSN launched the Data-driven Decision Making Initiative: Vision to Know and Do (www.3d2know.org) in February 2003. According to Executive Director Keith Kruger, the site will offer "up-to-date, unbiased information for educators on collecting, understanding and using data effectively."

District-level Engagement
As states develop systems to meet federal regulations and support their own initiatives, districts grapple with ways to simplify collection and streamline reporting. During roundtable discussions at the Joint Forum, public and private sector leaders discussed the conditions necessary for data-driven decision making to take hold.

Doug Otto, Superintendent of the Plano Independent School District, presented a model for effective organizational use of data-based decision making (D3M). Plano joined with several high-performing school districts to create the Western States Benchmarking Consortium (www.wsbenchmark.org) and define elements of organizational effectiveness.

Otto recommends that school districts collect quantitative data with direct impact such as test scores, exit exams, and other methods of assessment, as well as qualitative measures with indirect impact (staff development satisfaction surveys, network usage, helpdesk ticket information). Plano uses the measures to allocate resources and make informed decisions with broad input.

In 2001, Columbia Public Schools, Missouri, integrated data systems linking student demographic information with assessment, attendance, and other measures. The district hired a full-time data analyst to extract data into reports. Rather than wade through a sea of numbers, principals and administrators can query the data analyst for reports that meet their decision needs.

A Wider Circle of Influence
Beyond the school district and the legislature, ultimately parents and their children will benefit from the ability to make more informed choices about education.

"We talk about giving parents more choice," said Roberts. "We have to give them information about their choices and help them become more engaged in communities to improve all of the schools for all of the students."

GreatSchools (www.greatschools.net), a San Francisco-based nonprofit, provides parents and community members with relevant information about any public school in the U.S. The mission of GreatSchools is not to make data more available, but to offer parents guidance on what matters for their own child's education and how they can advocate for educational excellence.

"We offer the tip of the pyramid," said GreatSchools CEO and President Bill Jackson. "You have to boil it down to simple metrics. You take all of the data and think carefully about what views shed light into the question that you are asking. Parents may use data to better understand their child's development or to choose a school to meet their needs."

The compare-and-contrast feature available in some states, helps parents make sense of test scores, teacher experience, student to teacher ratios and other measures by putting them into context with similar schools. Many schools also have enhanced profiles with details about the school's philosophies and special programs.

Make It Count for Teachers and Students
Data-driven decision making promises to improve the quality of education through the process of gathering data, analysis, action, and reassessment. The stakes are high and teachers already feel tremendous pressure meeting standards, integrating technology, and responding to individual needs of students without the added burden of inputting information. Successful systems provide teachers with timely feedback and support.

"We're trying to fine tune ways for administrators, teachers and eventually students to look at data about learning," said Wade. "On our site [http://www.ode.state.or.us/cifs/learningresource/], for example, a teacher can look up a state mathematics standard when they want more information to support their instruction. Up comes the content information, a sample lesson plan, skill checks, sample test items similar to the state wide assessment." Language arts and science are next to be added to this resource.

Oregon also developed the Comprehensive School Review process (http://www.ode.state.or.us/cifs/improvement/schoolreview/) to help districts and schools with continuing improvement efforts. Using well-defined quality indicators and a review process, schools gather and analyze a wide variety of data about how well they function as a learning environment. A review team visits the school and later assists leaders with modifications and training based on their analysis.

According to Kosty, the process of implementing the Oregon system was not all smooth sailing: "We stubbed our toes quite a few times. Anything earth shaking? No. We had everything from incorrect definitions that had to be clarified to the servers going down. We have 200 districts submitting data to the state throughout the year. Decision-makers are very pleased with the information they are getting."