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Busting Through Education Data Obstacles: Doing More & Doing Better

Times are changing in the education sector. Education data obstacles and silos are coming down.  Standards are taking hold.  New tools and entrepreneurs are emerging. All of this truly is good news for teachers, students and families. For those of us working in the education technology and education data fields, it should also be sobering.

More is better

The good news is that more states are turning on new data resources – especially those targeted at parents and teachers – in better, faster and cheaper ways.  Take Delaware, for example, where the Department of Education went from zero to statewide educator-facing dashboards in less than 15 months.  Or Arkansas, where the Department of Education will pilot dashboards in less than 6 months.  Or South Carolina, which will provide parents with access to previously-unavailable information about their children’s educational progress by late 2013.

This momentum represents an amazing breakthrough for teachers, parents and students.  But for all the progress we’ve made , we’re now in one of those pesky necessary-but-insufficient situations that demands that we get coordinated and act quickly lest we miss an opportunity.

But not enough

An interesting phenomenon occurs when people, especially teachers, get first hand access to information they find valuable.  The initial reaction – something along the lines of “I’ve been waiting my entire career for something like this!” – is quickly followed by “and it would be so great if…”

The challenge this tendency presents is obvious:  Now more than ever, states and districts need to ensure they’re gathering systematic stakeholder feedback so that the tools they deliver can be refined over time based on use and user input. Otherwise, functionality will lag promise, and we’ll generate a whole new cycle of frustration.

Overall progress or chaos?

A number of simultaneous education sector developments have the potential to help address the situation:

  • Major infrastructure investments spurred by Race to the Top and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds are now having an impact on the frontlines of education, liberating data in new ways.
  • Significant initiatives like the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) and the Learning Registry support digital content development and tagging designed to ensure content can be connected with performance data.
  • Breakthrough innovations like the Shared Learning Infrastructure are setting the stage for future innovation and rapid progress.

Promising though they are, these developments are not coordinated. (Frank Catalano sums the situation up nicely in a recent EdSurge article.)

We allow these disconnects to continue at our peril – and at the continued expense of our teachers and school children. As a community, those of us working to put education data to work for teachers must ensure that each of these promising initiatives are bound together by a common thread. It’s the only way to ensure that they come together to support what educators need.

Useful, useable and used

We designed and released the Ed-Fi solution – and made it available via free license – to provide that thread. To ensure it continues to meet the needs of all stakeholders – states, vendors, educators and others – we’ve continued to refine it. To that end, today’s release of Ed-Fi v1.1 addresses several key needs expressed by the field. Version 1.1:

  • Adds dashboard functionality to put more power into teachers’ hands, giving them the ability to create and monitor custom groups of students, and to obtain data and insight into a student’s prior year performance
  • Expands support for and interoperability with efforts – like LRMI, Common Core State Standards, and the Shared Learning Collaborative – to ensure that information about digital content can be carried in an efficient and consistent fashion, and can be connected to student performance data. (For example, a student’s performance on a particular test item can be connected to content resources that could improve student understanding of the concept tested by that item.)
  • Integrates additional CEDS elements (I’ve written on this topic numerous times) to ensure that states and districts have a straightforward path to CEDS implementation

States are increasingly on board with the notion that access to student data is critical to helping teachers improve kids’ outcomes. The rest of us have to pay attention to how gathering momentum changes the urgency of our jobs, and make sure we’re doing our dead-level best to deliver.

To learn more about state by state progress in terms of sharing education data, read the Data Quality Campaign’s report, Data for Action 2012, and view a video of “Breaking Down State Silos.”  

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As president of the Ed-Fi Alliance, Lori Fey manages the rapid growth and adoption of the Ed-Fi data standard for states, school districts and vendors across the US. Prior to leading Ed-Fi Alliance, Lori served as portfolio director for policy initiatives at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and was responsible for the foundation’s policy initiatives focused on institutionalizing performance management in the U.S. public education system.

Read more of Lori’s posts here.

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3 comments

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  • Anthony Cody

    Honestly, I find the vision presented here of a seamless system of data providing endless loops of feedback, mediated by tests developed and administered by testing companies positively frightening. I taught science and math for 18 years, and was able to collect data quickly and efficiently from my students. I was able to use that information to provide them with feedback and modify my own instruction. I did not need an elaborate testing infrastructure to accomplish this. I was even able to communicate with parents without the use of data portals or the like. This is what it means to be a good teacher.

    We have put the data cart so far ahead of the horse that we are now scrambling backwards to use all the less than useful data being generated. In true technocratic fashion, we have created the data and now we are struggling to make it useful. Perhaps we should back up and ask teachers and parents what sorts of inforation they really need, and what is the least intrusive way to get it. Right now, testing has taken over as the very reason for education, when it ought to be a very rare check-up.