Ed-Tech Policy Reporter's Notebook

Improved Access to Rising Tide of Data Is Urged

By Caroline Hendrie — December 13, 2005 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The K-12 education system is awash in data as never before. But if all that information is going to add up to anything, then computerized school data systems need to become much more accessible to educators in the trenches.

That message was among the themes to emerge from a conference here this month for architects of K-12 data systems from the public and private sectors. The conference, billed as Data Systems and Instructional Improvement: There Is Much More to Do!, brought together state and district administrators, university researchers, and company leaders to discuss how the rising tide of digital data can be used to improve classroom instruction.


If test results and other student information are available for analysis through easy-to-use data tools, they can improve everything from identifying individual students’ learning needs to allocating schoolwide resources, said conference keynote speaker Jeffrey C. Wayman, a researcher from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Social Organization of Schools.

But too often, he said, such data languish in central repositories, used for little but accountability reporting.

“Data have been like a roach motel,” he said. “Data check in, they just don’t check out.”

The Dec. 1-2 conference comes amid a proliferation of data spurred by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. States have had to institute complex, test-based accountability systems as part of carrying out the law’s mandates on raising student achievement.

The federally funded North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, whose work is conducted by the nonprofit Learning Point Associates of Naperville, Ill., sponsored the gathering.

With the push to meet NCLB mandates, the lines are blurring between the three main types of school data systems in use, Mr. Wayman said.

He defines those as student-information systems, which tend to feature only current-year data and are used for day-to-day tasks such as attendance and scheduling; assessment systems used for rapid scoring of periodic, locally administered tests; and data warehouses, which typically are used for storing and analyzing multiyear data, but not for collecting and managing them on a daily basis.

Yet even though more-integrated systems are emerging, he said, “we don’t have one killer system that does everything.”

Mr. Wayman and other participants stressed that most educators lack the know-how to make use of contemporary data-analysis tools. “System capacity far outweighs educator capacity, and that gap is growing,” he said.

Anthony Evers, Wisconsin’s deputy superintendent of public instruction, blamed at least some of that gap on the No Child Left Behind Act.


Since the law’s enactment, he said, his state has had to rebuild its technology infrastructure to comply with the statute’s reporting demands, diverting resources from what had been its top educational technology priority: training teachers to use computers in the classroom.

“NCLB came along and hijacked that effort,” Mr. Evers said. “And if we don’t return to that, we’ll be in trouble.”

Other educators suggested that the federal law has been a boon to data-driven decisionmaking, or D3M for short. “No Child Left Behind has been a great thing for data analysis,” said David M. Chiszar, the director of assessment for Illinois’ 19,000-student Naperville School District 203.

Arie van der Ploeg, a senior researcher at Learning Point Associates, agreed that the law was generally “a good thing” that is generating “a lot of intelligence about data.” Yet the field has a long way to go, he stressed, before systems capture such data as “what individual teachers do well or not” and then act on the information consistently to improve teaching and learning.

One purpose of the conference was to let public school officials trade notes with private vendors over how to get more out of big-ticket data initiatives.

Leo Bohman, the vice president of applications development at SPSS Inc., a Chicago-based provider of data-analysis software and services, urged educators to do their homework by clarifying their needs before issuing requests for proposals from vendors.

“I can’t respond very effectively with an RFP saying, ‘Here’s all the data we have, tell me what you can do,’ ” he said.

Mark Williams, the president of Executive Intelligence Inc., based in Lakewood, Colo., said the data-integration company had worked to get one district’s information out of “data jail,” only to have the information end up in “administrator jail,” never to be seen or used by teachers.

“It was disappointing for us,” Mr. Williams said. “Their goal was not to improve their district; it was to appear to improve their district.”

While acknowledging the need for schools to make better use of evolving data-analysis tools, educators cautioned that systems designers must not forget the human element.

“Hopefully, that’s been my part of it,” said Jim Walters, the principal of the 500-student Bayless Intermediate School in the St. Louis suburb of Bayless, Mo., “to remind them that if they don’t involve the teachers and the community, it isn’t going to work.”

Related Tags:


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
How to Leverage Virtual Learning: Preparing Students for the Future
Hear from an expert panel how best to leverage virtual learning in your district to achieve your goals.
Content provided by Class
English-Language Learners Webinar AI and English Learners: What Teachers Need to Know
Explore the role of AI in multilingual education and its potential limitations.
Education Webinar The K-12 Leader: Data and Insights Every Marketer Needs to Know
Which topics are capturing the attention of district and school leaders? Discover how to align your content with the topics your target audience cares about most. 

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Ed-Tech Policy What the Head of ChatGPT Told Congress About AI's Potential
Sam Altman, the CEO of the company that created ChatGPT, thinks that AI-generated content needs to be labeled as such.
3 min read
Artificial intelligence and schoolwork image with hand holding pencil with digital AI collage overtop
Ed-Tech Policy Schools Are Major Targets of Cyberattacks. A Bipartisan Effort in Congress Aims to Help
There have been 1,619 publicly disclosed K-12 cyberattacks between 2016 and 2022.
3 min read
Silhouette of a hacker in a hoodie using laptop with binary code overlay.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Ed-Tech Policy We Asked ChatGPT: Should Schools Ban You?
The debate about the benefits and drawbacks of artificial intelligence, and more specifically ChatGPT, is heating up.
1 min read
Vector illustration of the letters AI partially breaking through the red circle and slash symbol representing it being banned
Tech luminaries and prominent AI researchers signed an open letter calling for temporarily putting the brakes on development of AI technologies.
Ed-Tech Policy Congress Tells TikTok CEO: The App Is Bad for Students and Privacy
TikTok spreads misinformation, endangers children’s mental health, and jeopardizes their privacy, lawmakers said.
3 min read
Supporters of TikTok hold signs during a rally to defend the app at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 22, 2023. The House holds a hearing Thursday, with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about the platform's consumer privacy and data security practices and impact on kids.
Supporters of TikTok hold signs during a rally to defend the app at the Capitol in Washington on March 22, 2023. The House held a hearing the next day with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about the platform's consumer privacy and data security practices and its impact on kids.
Jose Luis Magana/AP