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Published in Print: July 14, 2004, as State Chiefs, Businesses Forge $45 Million Data Venture

State Chiefs, Businesses Forge $45 Million Data Venture

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The demand on states to collect, analyze, and report data on education has never been greater. Now, a three-year, $45 million project is gearing up to help states use the data to inform education policy.

The proposed Data Partnership was informally announced at the Council of Chief State School Officers’ annual meeting on large-scale assessment, held here June 20-23.

"This issue of data is not going to go away," said G. Thomas Houlihan, the executive director of the council. "We know the collection requirements are here to stay. Someone needs to take the lead to ensure this is done as well as it can possibly be done.

"I would rather the chiefs and the departments [of education] be in the driver’s seat on this," he added, "than be told what to do by another department within state government."

The project is a collaboration among the council; the Marlborough, Mass.-based CELT Corp., which works with states and districts to design and build information-technology systems for education; the school- evaluation-services division of Standard & Poor’s, a New York City-based financial-analysis firm; and the Washington-based Achieve, which promotes standards-based education. The project is underwritten by the Broad Foundation, in Los Angeles, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, located in Seattle.

Customized Analyses

The initiative builds on the School Information Partnership, a project supported by the Broad Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education to design a Web site that would provide parents and others with information about school and district performance called for by the No Child Left Behind Act. The Web site was constructed by the National Center for Educational Accountability, located in Austin, Texas, and Standard & Poor’s school-evaluation-services division. ("President Bush Unveils State Data-Collection Effort," Sept. 17, 2003.)

According to the chiefs’ council, the Data Partnership is a distinct but related enterprise that will provide technical help to states as they try to build or improve their education data systems and use those systems to craft policy.

"This project would be much more comprehensive in nature," said Michael Stewart, the director of Standard & Poor’s performance-evaluation services.

So far, 17 states have joined the CCSSO’s Decision Support Architecture Consortium, which is focused on developing the infrastructure for states’ data-management systems. They are: Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

Participating states will each receive a customized analysis of data needs and how to close any gaps from the CELT Corp. Over time, the partnership could help states build the architecture for a more robust education data system, including detailed implementation plans, joint requests for proposals, procurement, and contractor oversight and management. CELT also plans to identify and share best practices across participating states.

"We’re dealing with very expensive projects with a lot of risk," said Richard M. Kesner, the president and chief operating officer of the company. Putting in place a statewide information system can easily cost states $25 million, he noted. In contrast, states will pay only $15,000 to $25,000 for the customized CELT analyses, thanks to the foundation support. The grant includes $1.5 million for CELT to work with 25 states in the first year of the endeavor.

Expanded Web Site

The bulk of the money will help Standard & Poor’s provide all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico with a publicly accessible Web site that combines achievement, demographic, and financial data on the states’ schools and districts, as well as annual reports. The Web site will include tools that permit users to compare schools and districts within a state but not across states. Standard & Poor’s will use already available data for its Web site, rather than ask states to gather new kinds of information.

Both Achieve and the chiefs’ council will work with states on how to connect education data with policy and practice, based on areas of interest identified by the participating states.

As examples, Matthew Gandal, the vice president of Achieve, said states might want to address missing data that connect students’ high school performance with their later success in college. States also might want to address the amount of money they’re spending on teacher professional development and whether it’s making a difference.

Mr. Kesner acknowledged that getting some states to come on board has been slow. "They have to see the value of it," he said.

Scott S. Montgomery, the chief of staff for the CCSSO, said the council was forming a coordinating committee to oversee the work of all three subcontractors and to lessen the burden on individual states. The council also will form an advisory committee for the Data Partnership, whose members will include national experts, governors’ education advisers, business leaders, and state and district superintendents. When the partnership officially begins later in the fall, the CCSSO will set up a toll-free customer-service hotline for states and districts to provide feedback.

Vol. 23, Issue 42, Page 16

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