The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has led to a sharp rise in the collection of school and student achievement data. But states need to do more to harness the power of these data to inform instruction, a new report suggests.

The report, “Technology Counts 2006,” from the publication Education Week and its Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, is the ninth in a series of annual reports examining the use of technology in the nation’s schools. In this year’s version, called “The Information Edge: Using Data to Accelerate Achievement,” researchers also examined the structure and quality of states’ computerized data systems, and how these systems are being used to drive student achievement, by surveying state education officials from February to April.

Here are some of the major findings from this year’s survey:

  • Just 28 states and the District of Columbia (counted as a state for the purposes of the report) provided current state assessment results through a centralized data system. Five of these states do not include additional information on how students perform on various test sections or questions. Almost half of all states do not provide access to students’ test performance over time through a web portal or other data tool.

  • 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 qualities.

  • A majority of states now have individualized numbers, or “identifiers,” that track individual students and teachers; but only five of these states have advanced data systems for both students and teachers, as well as the ability to link information from these two systems. As a result, many states might be able to follow students’ academic progress, but they might not have the capacity to identify which teachers have increased student performance over time.

  • Forty-four states and the District of Columbia give educators the tools they need to download data files from their statewide data system. But only six states let educators upload their own locally generated student information in turn–and nearly half of all states fail to provide any training to educators in how to analyze or use these data to improve instruction.

    “The report builds on past efforts to size up the state of educational technology in the country,” said Caroline Hendrie, project editor.

    According to Hendrie, last year’s report found states investing hundreds of millions of dollars in computerized student information systems. This year, researchers wanted to determine how those systems were being used.

    “Some states and districts have miles to go to make their systems genuinely useful to educators; others have found ways to put principals and teachers in the drivers’ seats,” Hendrie said.

    She continued: “Many places are missing out on what a good data system can do. Good data collection can produce reliable dropout rates; it can provide data on which policies work and which policies do not. [It can be used to determine] which teachers are doing the best job, so those teachers can share best practices.” A good data system provides a “roadmap” for what teachers and their students should be doing in class, she concluded.

    Though states were not ranked according to their data use, only four states–Arkansas, New York, South Dakota, and Vermont–met all of the survey’s indicators for exemplary access to educational data, along with the tools to analyze these data effectively.

    The survey did rank states according to their overall use of educational technology. All 50 states and the District of Columbia were given letter grades ranging from A through F; researchers graded the states on 14 indicators spanning three general areas: access to technology, use of technology, and capacity to use technology for instruction.

    On average, the nation earned an overall grade of C-plus. West Virginia earned the highest score with an A, and Virginia came in a close second with an A-minus. Hawaii and Nevada fared the worst, with a D-plus and a D-minus, respectively.

    West Virginia’s A-grade was based, in part, on the number of students per instructional computer (three), students per classroom-based computer (5.7), students per internet-connected computer (three), and students per internet-connected classroom computer (5.9).

    Although the report’s authors said they made no effort to determine whether computers in classrooms are improving student learning, West Virginia Schools Superintendent Steve Paine said the state has other reports that indicate they do. And the state has plans to continue to improve its use of technology, he said.

    The state also got good marks because it has technology standards for schools and students, a virtual school, computer-based assessments, and requires technology training for teacher certification and recertification. Hawaii, on the other hand, received a D-plus overall.

    Hawaii earned an F in one of three categories examined, “capacity to use instructional technology,” in part because it has no policy to ensure technology is included in educators’ license requirements, the report concluded.

    Hawaii got a C-minus for “access to instructional technology” and a B-minus for “use of technology,” the report said.

    “My initial impression was that the information may not be a full reflection of how far along we are with technology,” state Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen said. “But it’s also an indication that many states are evidently moving along more rapidly.”

    About two-thirds of states indicated that training teachers to use technology more effectively was one of their top priorities, Hendrie said.

    The report made no recommendations. It did not try to determine how well classroom teachers are using technology or correlate access to technology with student achievement.

    Christopher Swanson, director of the research center, offered his insights into the report’s findings.

    “In many cases, the states that provide higher-level access to computing technology are states that are less populous, more rural,” he said. “The pattern we have seen [is] states that traditionally have lagged in student achievement have gravitated toward technology as a tool to boost their achievement. They felt a more urgent need to get on the cutting edge of technology.”

    Swanson said he hopes the report encourages state and school leaders to “get smarter” about how they use data to improve student achievement.

    Links:

    “Technology Counts 2006” report
    http://www.edweek.org/ew/toc/2006/05/04/index.html