The nation has made dramatic progress in developing computerized data systems that can reliably guide education decisionmaking, but it still has plenty of work to do before those systems can fulfill their potential to accelerate student achievement, Technology Counts 2006 has found.
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The federal No Child Left Behind Act has touched off a boom in school data collection. As a matter of necessity, states and school districts have responded to the 4-year-old law’s testing, teacher-quality, and accountability demands with major initiatives to upgrade their systems for collecting, managing, and analyzing electronic data.
Yet the ninth edition of Education Week’s annual report on education technology shows that more needs to be done on the state and local levels before the mushrooming amounts of data become genuinely useful in improving student learning on a broad scale.
A survey of the states conducted by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center for Technology Counts 2006 reveals a mixed record in providing teachers, administrators, and policymakers with access to statistics and analytic tools needed to turn data into instructional gold.
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According to the EPE Research Center’s survey of the 50 states and the District of Columbia:
• Two-thirds of states provide educators with access to interactive databases through which they can analyze school-level information, but only 20 states have data systems that allow educators to compare their own schools with others that have similar characteristics.
• Fewer than half the states provide educators with access to a Web portal or other centralized system that provides information about students’ demographic backgrounds or their participation in such programs as special education, classes for English-language learners, and free or reduced-price lunch.
• Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia provide access through such a system to current state-assessment results, but five of those states do not include information about how students scored on specific subscale areas or test items.
• Just over half the states provide access to students’ test performance over time through a Web portal or other centralized data tool.
States have an equally uneven record on providing local educators with training or other resources designed to help them decipher the data to improve instruction, the survey found.
Forty-four states and the District of Columbia provide teachers and administrators with tools that let them download data files from the statewide system. But just six states let local educators, in turn, upload locally generated data into the state system for analysis.
As for training in the use of data to shape classroom instruction, 26 states and the District of Columbia provide teachers with such learning opportunities. Nearly the same number provide guides to educators on the analysis or interpretation of data.
In addition to state efforts, Technology Counts 2006 describes the role that policymakers at the federal level have been playing. Through grants to help states build longitudinal-data systems and support of various national initiatives on data standards and quality, the federal government has been involved in a range of efforts to help schools make better use of data to accelerate student learning.
The EPE Research Center asked respondents to this year’s state technology survey to indicate the most important roles that states and districts can play in using data to improve teaching and learning. The role most often mentioned as a key responsibility for states was providing supports to build capacity for more effective use of data. Seventy percent of respondents mentioned state activities to support capacity-building, such as providing technical assistance, training, or analysis tools. Another prominent state role cited was disseminating information about performance to educators and the public, often in the context of a formal accountability framework. Capacity-building and providing information were much less likely to be viewed as important responsibilities for districts.
By contrast, state officials indicated that districts should take the lead in other areas. Several aspects of the district role involved utilizing data in ways that more directly affect instruction in the classroom. For example, districts were much more likely to be viewed as the party that should target efforts to the schools or students most in need based on performance data. Similarly, the activity most clearly identified as a district role was using data to implement specific instructional interventions.
*Click image to see the full chart.
SOURCE: EPE Research Center, 2006
Yet it is in individual school districts that much of the nation’s new data landscape is taking shape, this year’s report finds. Often working with outside contractors, a small but growing share of the nation’s districts have made major investments in data tools and in training educators to use them. The goal is typically not only to comply with the reporting requirements of the NCLB law and state accountability measures, but also to meet the student-achievement targets that undergird those statutes.
In Irvine, Calif., for instance, school leaders are working with teachers to analyze data in ways that can help them address the needs of all students—not just the majority who meet state standards—in part because the federal law requires adequate yearly progress throughout the school population.
In Philadelphia, teachers are using sophisticated assessment and data-analysis tools to track what their students are actually learning during the year so they can adjust instruction accordingly.
And at a regional vocational-technical high school in Upton, Mass., teachers and administrators are crediting extensive use of data as a key factor in enabling students to defy expectations and succeed on the state’s high school exit exam.
To put in place the systems they increasingly feel they need, many local school leaders are choosing among an array of rapidly evolving assessment and data-analysis products. For-profit companies and nonprofit providers are scrambling for footing in a dynamic data market that experts still regard as wide open.
As this year’s report describes, the schools and districts that are leading the way in data-driven decisionmaking are typically making strong efforts to bring classroom teachers on board. In Gainesville, Ga., for instance, the district dedicates the 10 days of professional development in its teachers’ schedule to setting standards, creating assessments, and learning how to use data to change classroom practice. The school system also holds monthly after-school workshops for teachers addressing the latest issues involving data.
Amid all the activity on data, states also have been making progress in core areas tracked by Education Week. This year, Technology Counts assigns letter grades to the states for the first time, based on where they stand on various indicators related to access to educational technology, the use of technology, and efforts to enhance educators’ technology skills. Overall, grades range from an A for West Virginia to a D-minus for Nevada.
In addition to its in-depth look at school data and the grading of the states, Technology Counts 2006 offers a variety of online-only components to complement this year’s report on Education Week’s Web site. Those include individualized reports with information specific to each state plus state data comparisons.