The Department of Education is doing a better job handling the avalanche of data it requests from the states on elementary and secondary school programs, according to the Government Accountability Office.
But it is still struggling to reduce the burden on the states, which must gather information under dozens of different federal education programs, the watchdog agency of Congress says.
An Oct. 28 GAO report praised the Education Department’s plan to reduce state data requests through its Performance Based Data Management Initiative, which began in 2002. When complete, the database is supposed to streamline data-collection efforts and reduce the work states must do to report that information.
But some very basic stumbling blocks remain, the GAO said. For example, not all states are meeting the department’s data requests, and state officials have mixed views on just how useful the large database will be for them when it is operational.
One unidentified state official quoted in the report said that “we are asked from the federal government for more and more information, … [which] opens the floodgate for more and more reporting.”
It is “hard to see the benefit” of the initiative at this time, the official continued.
The data-management initiative “is an ambitious and risky undertaking,” said the GAO report, which was submitted to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
“Fundamental to any large, complex effort’s success is a well-thought-out plan that tracks its progress against a set of clearly defined and measurable goals,” the report continued. The department’s data-management initiative “has not put in place such a planning and tracking system.”
The Education Department did not dispute any of the GAO’s conclusions.
Thomas W. Luce III, the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development, wrote in a letter appended to the report that the areas the GAO identified as priorities are the same ones noted by the department. Mr. Luce said the department is devoting more resources to the program and is completing a detailed plan of action.
The Performance Based Data Management Initiative, or PBDMI, is intended to consolidate 16 separate requirements for state data collection. Among the current reports that would be supplanted by the initiative are counts of migrant and homeless children, reports on special education services such as expulsion reports, and vocational education reports.
No data requests related to the No Child Left Behind Act, such as adequate-yearly-progress reports for schools, would be eliminated by this initiative.
The initiative is also supposed to create a Web-based method that the states can use to submit information to the federal government.
The plan was to have states voluntarily submit information for the 2002-03 and 2003-04 school years as a test of the PBDMI, while also continuing with the current reporting method.
That didn’t work, the GAO says. According to the report, most states were not able to provide enough data during the trial submission period. Once it became clear that the states were struggling to submit the required information, the Education Department conducted a series of site visits and scaled back its request.
However, the resulting delay has pushed back the implementation of the initiative, which the department has spent $30 million on so far. As of June, only nine states had submitted more than half of the information sought by the department, while 29 had submitted less than 20 percent.
A version of this article appeared in the November 09, 2005 edition of Education Week as GAO: States Coping With Federal Demands for K-12 Data