States

President Bush UnveilsState Data-Collection Effort

By David J. Hoff — September 17, 2003 4 min read
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President Bush announced last week that the federal government is supporting a largely private effort to create an Internet warehouse of student-achievement and other data collected under federal law.

The project will post every state’s test-score data and provide search and sorting tools to help users compare how well schools reach specific demographic groups and teach certain subjects, and gauge schools’ overall performance. It also will provide a financial analysis that quantifies each school’s success at improving student performance."It’s ... certainly necessary for parents in order for them to make an informed opinion about their child,” President Bush said in announcing the project last week in a Jacksonville, Fla., school. He predicted that the system “will make sure that best practices” becomes integral to the national dialogue on schools.

The database—which is financed by the U.S. Department of Education and the Broad Foundation—will produce state-by-state and school-by-school reports that will help states and schools meet the requirements to publish report cards under the No Child Left Behind Act, a department official said.

“It will help change the conversation about education in the United States,” said John P. Bailey, the director of the department’s office of education technology, one of several arms of the department working on the project. “The conversation will be about: What does the data say about school performance? It will focus the conversation on the data, not just who said what.”

But the success of the venture depends on recruiting states to participate, something that isn’t assured.

“All states are going to look at it and consider it,” said Patricia F. Sullivan, the deputy director for advocacy and strategic alliances for the Council of Chief State School Officers. “There are a lot of alternatives out there, so whether all states are going to participate is unclear.”

Overwhelming Data

In the two-year, $60.3 million project, the National Center for Educational Accountability and Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services will collect test scores from every state and construct a Web site that allows users to analyze test scores in a variety of ways.

For example, a Hispanic parent could compare the scores of students in his child’s school with those in another school in the district, said Eli Broad, the founder of the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation, which is providing most of the funding for the project. The Broad Foundation also provides funding for Education Week‘s coverage of school leadership.

The parent’s response, Mr. Broad said in an interview, might be: “Maybe I should get my kid out of that school and get him into a school that’s dramatically better.”

Likewise, he added, the database could help a principal find schools that are succeeding in teaching a demographic group that his school is struggling to reach.

Mr. Broad’s foundation will pay $25.9 million of the project’s costs over the next two years. An Education Department grant will cover $4.7 million in first-year expenses. The $29.7 million balance will be raised from other private donors, he said.

The project is similar to other efforts that offer tools to decipher student test- score data. Standard & Poor’s, based in New York City, has created similar tools for Pennsylvania and Michigan. Companies such as the Grow Network and SchoolNet are providing report cards that put data in clear terms that help educators create plans for improving instruction.

The Education Trust operates a Web site called “Dispelling the Myth,” which links users to achievement data in all 50 states.

“We need as many data tools out there as people are willing to sponsor,” said Craig D. Jerald, a senior policy analyst for the Education Trust, a Washington nonprofit organization that advocates for policies that close the achievement gap between different racial and ethnic groups.

“Analyzing test-score data is a great starting point for any educator or parent who is trying to improve the quality of a school, according to Susan H. Fuhrman, the dean of the University of Pennsylvania graduate school of education. “For me, it’s a beginning of an inquiry of learning how to do things better,” said Ms. Fuhrman, who is on an advisory board for Standard & Poor’s education research.

Skeptics said the project will reinforce the belief that test scores are the only data needed to determine how well a school is doing and how to help students improve.

“There is a false assumption that test-score data is an adequate indicator of student learning,” said Monty Neill, the executive director of the Center for Fair & Open Testing, a Cambridge, Mass.-based group known as FairTest. “If all you have is one point in time, one test, you don’t have very much.”

Teachers won’t be able to look at the data and create individualized plans that address student’s needs, he added.

But Ms. Fuhrman said educators and parents are more astute than ever in examining and interpreting data. It’s likely that many will be able to understand what the data can—and cannot—tell them.

“The average user is getting more and more sophisticated and is learning how to generate questions,” she said.

The Web site, which will carry a No Child Left Behind Act seal, will publish test-score data down to the school level and will provide the searching tools to help users analyze the data. The work will be done by Standard & Poor’s and the National Center for Educational Accountability, an Austin, Texas-based group that started by analyzing school-by-school data from the Texas testing system.

The project will post the school-level academic-performance data of 10 states in January and will phase in other states throughout next year. The hope is to have data from all 50 states by the end of 2004, said Dan Katzir, the managing director of the Broad Foundation.

In the second phase, the project will post data on schools’ financial resources. That phase of the project will begin in July, he said.

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