Starting this January, parents and educators will have free access to a web site that translates and reports the nation’s student achievement data required by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in a format that is easy to use, read, and search.

This $50.9 million public-private initiative will post disaggregated test results and other school data from each state on a single web site, so interested persons can monitor the progress of an individual school and compare it to the progress of other schools in the state.

The program, announced by President George W. Bush earlier this month, also will help school administrators analyze test results, examine financial data, and meet state and school district report card requirements, free of charge for the first two years.

“We want full disclosure. We have nothing to hide in America when it comes to results,” Bush said. “It’s an essential part of making sure that the best practices are shared widely across any particular school district or any state. It is essential that parents have data at their disposal.”

Parents who move between counties could use the online database to find out how schools in the area are faring, or a school principal could use it to determine how successful another school’s reading curriculum is for Hispanic, African-American, or other minority students, Bush explained.

“In other words, this is full disclosure of information,” he said. “We know that by using information correctly, every child’s problems can be addressed.”

The new tool is the result of a partnership among the Broad Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services, and Just for the Kids, a project of the National Center for Education Accountability.

Using this resource is strictly voluntary, but John Bailey, director of ED’s Office of Educational Technology, said he thinks many cash-strapped states and school districts will take advantage of the free tool.

“We think there is a lot of value to them participating,” said Bailey. “It’s a chance to get a ton of functionality while meeting the requirements of No Child Left Behind at a great price [no charge].”

Initially, a hybrid tool that combines the functionality of Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services and Just for the Kids data analysis tools will be provided to all 50 states free of charge. Organizers hope to have data from 10 states entered when the tool launches in January and to enter data from the rest of the states by December 2004.

In a subsequent phase to occur next spring, Standard & Poor’s full data analysis tool will be provided to states to use at no charge for two years.

The tool will answer questions such as:

  • How much student achievement is earned per dollar spent?
  • How many qualified teachers are there?
  • Did the school meet adequate yearly progress (AYP)?
  • How many students graduate from high school?
  • How many teachers have only emergency credentials?
  • How many classes are not taught by highly qualified teachers?
  • How many schools are in need of improvement?
  • What are the teachers’ qualifications?
In addition to analyzing the data, users can make projections to estimate where a school would be in terms of achievement by 2014 if it maintained the same practices.

“What it shows is actually a proficiency gap, if you will,” Bailey said. “If you keep at this pace, this is how far short or ahead of your performance goals you will be by 2014.”

The data reporting burden on states should be minimal, organizers said, because the data will be collected from publicly available sources where possible.

“We’ve really tried to craft this with the knowledge that we don’t want this to be another burden on states,” said Pia Saengswang, associate director of the Broad Foundation, the major contributor to this program.

The Broad Foundation’s goal was to provide school administrators and policy makers with the tools necessary for making data-informed decisions during times of big budget deficits.

“We wanted to lower the cost barrier to schools and districts having these kinds of sophisticated data analysis tools,” Saengswang said. “We think it would take a significant amount of resources to create the same level of sophistication and functionality, so we hope states do take advantage of it.”

Because these tools are only scheduled to be available free of charge for two years, the initiative does not intend to replace school data management systems, but instead stimulate the urgency of improving data management systems, Bailey said.

“The danger is people thinking that they don’t have to invest in better data reporting systems. That is not what this means,” he said.

Links:

No Child Left Behind: A Toolkit for Teachers
http://www.ed.gov/teachers/nclbguide/index2.html

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

Broad Foundation
http://www.broadfoundation.org

Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services
http://www.ses.standardandpoors.com

Just for the Kids
http://www.just4kids.org