Sunday, December 10, 2006

Data Quality Campaign a good idea, but....

The Data Quality Campaign has done a good job highlighting the work of groups who have been working on the issues of data use in school improvement for years. The DQC has been helpful in that it both focused these (and other affiliated and similarly-minded groups) on a series of core metrics for measuring state-level progress in system building. The dilemma here is that except for the those states that provide school information systems to all schools from a central source, most of the data is annual accountability information and is almost irrelevant for local decision making at the school or classroom level. The data needed by states for accountability and monitoring is good for studying the impact of programs and policies, but lacks the real time and frequent needs of building level staff for planning lessons and addressing gaps in students' knowledge.

The way that these efforts may benefit student and teachers is the university requirements for student and teacher ID numbers and the application of modern information management principles and technologies to the education sector. The demand for more granular, high-quality data by state education agencies from local districts has provided much better direction to district research and IT staff as well as to vendors of systems at these levels. The real changes in data-informed decision making will take place as districts and schools have access to better training and tools for data use. The DQC can take some credit for raising the visibility of these issues.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Value-Added Research and educational infrastructure

One of the things our research team struggles with on a regular basis is the huge gaps between what educational information systems track and what we need to correctly attribute programs to teachers and students. It has been rare - in my experience - to find that a district student information system comes close to managing the complexity of teaching and learning in modern schools. If we want to know the effectiveness of a particular 4th grade reading program, for example, one would want to have strong attribution of the following links.

  • Which adults are engaged in the instruction? Given multi-grade classrooms, team teaching, trade offs between subject matter exports who are not the primary instructor, etc. it is often difficult to determine who (and there may be several adults) is doing the teaching.
  • What is being taught? While we may know what books were purchased, it is difficult to know if a teacher is actually delivering the purchased curriculum as intended. There may be custom additions or replacement of sections. The curriculum may be difficult and the teacher is struggling with the material as well.
  • Which kids are in the room? Pull out programs, ability grouping, and student mobility may all cloud the picture and make it difficult to determine who was in the room to do the learning.
  • What resources does the teacher bring to bear? There are important aspects of teacher training (original university work and ongoing professional development) that provide important insights about what works from the input side of the production of student knowledge.
This is not to say that no one tracks these things. However, I would suggest that it is far more difficult that even most district administrators recognize. It is beyond the capacity of some large fraction of the school management software being sold today.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Fixing NCLB Suggestions

The recent election results have revived calls for fixes to NCLB. A recent Star-Tribune opinion piece sums up most the changes recommended by many constituencies. The National School Board Association actually keeps a running list of relevant activities and publications that focus on reforming NCLB.

At the same time, both of the major teacher organizations have reviewed and updated their positions on NCLB and the reforms the see as necessary - American Federation of Teachers and
National Education Association.