Promises and problems of data collection on Idaho school kids

broberts@idahostatesman.comSeptember 12, 2013 

— Swooping up information on public school kids — including names, test scores and other data bits — is hailed by state education leaders as the answer to solving a litany of public ed woes.

Data can show how students are performing. It can relay that information back to schools in a nanosecond. Teachers can access portals that open up worlds of lesson plans and teaching ideas, all tied to Common Core, the new set of standards working their way through Idaho schools.

In a meeting with lawmakers today, Alex MacDonald, Department of Education director of instructional technology, laid out a plan where teachers can use a state software program to pick test questions that students would answer online.

Instantly, teachers can see how many students missed which problems and start customizing instruction to their specific needs.

All this is available to every school district at no cost through Schoolnet, a software program paid for by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

Other data collection programs have helped the state spot double counting of student attendance, which saved the state $2 million last year, said Tom Luna, state superintendent of public instruction.

Coming soon from Idaho schools data collection: a school district fiscal report card that will show parents and taxpayers how much money a district spends and compare it with who well students are performing academically.

But despite the perceived values of data collection and the state’s longitudinal data system, critics complain the state wants too much personal information. While Luna and others have said the state isn’t collecting Social Security numbers and religious and biometric information, those opposed to the data systems seem unmoved.

State leaders are saying the state must have a firewall to keep any education data secure and Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’ Alene, said he is working on legislation to provide that security.

By the way, parents can request to see all the information the State Department of Education is holding on their children.

Other problems:

– Lagging data: Some district financial information lags behind a couple of years in the stat e’s system

– Paying for data entry: School district have had to put people full time on crunching data to meet the state’s requirements. That has happened as districts faced budget cuts over the past several years.

With eye toward education reform, legislative committee convenes

Nine state senators and representatives are about to convene an interim legislative committee this morning on public education in Idaho.

Idaho Statesman education reporter Bill Roberts will update the committee's work throughout the day on his blog.

Today's meeting agenda will include education groups discussing the needs and challenges of public education.

Richard Westerberg, chairman of Gov. Butch Otter's Task Force for Improving Public Eduction, is expected to address the committee at 9:15 a.m. Otter's task force has made several recommendations for improving education, including a requirement that students show a mastery in their subjects before moving on to other classes. It has also called for restoration of $82.5 million in operational money Idaho's school districts have lost through legislative cuts since 2009.

Expect some discussion on the longitudinal data system, a program by the state to collect educational data on students. Critics have complained about the system and worry where that data will eventually end up. Idaho school officials say the information will not leave the state.


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