California lags on using dataFailure to agree on sharing, managing info
The release Wednesday of an annual 50-state survey reveals that California is falling behind – way behind – in using statewide student data in effective ways. Despite its ongoing struggle to get CALPADS, the longitudinal student data system, up and built, the primary obstacle is not technology but leadership. If CALPADS were flawless, there still would be this problem: Despite years of talk, the state remains no closer to an agreement on governance: who will manage which data, how it will be shared, who will have access to it, for what purpose, and under what conditions?
California is stuck in the first phase, constructing CALPADS primarily to meet federal reporting requirements, with no will or momentum to take the next step. Other states are moving ahead, positioning to collect, link, and distribute data to help state leaders make smart decisions and to assist teachers and principals with real-time information.
In its sixth annual survey, the non-profit Data Quality Campaign compared states’ efforts in meeting the “10 essential elements” for a successful statewide data system and 10 actions that states must take toward the ultimate goal of using data effectively to improve student achievement.
In accepting federal stimulus money – $4.9 billion in California’s case – all states agreed to fulfill the 10 elements of a data system by September 2011. And despite its ongoing battle with IBM, CALPADS’ vendor, California is satisfying nine of the 10 elements. They include using a statewide Student Identifier to track students from grade to grade, collecting data on student enrollments, dropouts and transcrips, and matching statewide teacher identifiers with individual students.
But the one missing element, which will put it out of compliance with the feds this fall, is the failure to link K-12 data with higher education data. The connection is critical for school districts to finally learn how well they are preparing students for college and career choices.
The problem is not a lack of data. The higher ed systems have their own extensive databases. But they and other gatekeepers in state government could not come to an agreement, despite more than a year of discussion, on how the data will be linked and who would control it. (Democratic Sen. Joe Simitian, one of the few champions for data, proposed a governance system in SB 1298 in 2008, but it was weakened in the Assembly.) Forty-one other states have been able to solve this challenge.
No state has taken all 10 actions that the Data Campaign identified as necessary “to create a culture of effective data use.” But Texas, which is developing a rich data system that will inform policy makers on student progress and teachers on individual students, has taken eight actions; 12 states have taken six or seven; and 18 have taken four or five.
The Campaign was charitable in crediting California with two. I’d add asterisks.
The 10 actions are:
- Link data systems with early learning, postsecondary education, workforce, social services, and other critical agencies so that it’s clear whether students are getting effective services, and schools are preparing students to meet college and career goals;
- Create stable, sustained support for the data systems;
- Develop governance structures to define the roles and responsibilities needed to guide data collection and use;
- Build state data repositories like CALPADS;
- Implement systems to provide timely access to information while protecting student and teacher privacy;
- Create progress reports for educators and parents using individual student data to improve student performance;
- Create reports using longitudinal statistics to guide systemwide improvement efforts. (Decisionmakers and educators would be armed with information about how students progressed from preschool through college.)
- Develop a P-20/workforce research agenda with universities, researchers, and intermediary groups to explore data for useful information;
- Promote educator professional development and credentialing to ensure educators know how to access, analyze, and use data appropriately;
- Promote strategies to raise awareness of available data so that everyone – legislators, parents, researchers – knows how to access and use the information.
California got credit for building a statewide repository and for creating sustained support for the systems. That’s ironic on both counts. The state Department of Education charged IBM this month with doing substandard work on CALPADS and has given it two weeks to fix the problems or default on the contract. The “stable, sustained” support refers to federally funded work by the California School Information Services (CSIS) to maintain CALPADS. In October, the $7 million that Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed for CALPADS because he was unhappy with CALPADS delays included CSIS money. Had there not been a technical error in the veto language, the CSIS staff would have been laid off. So much for sustained support.
In its second-round application for the Race to the Top competition, the state and its participating districts laid out a broad post-CALPADS vision for using student data. It envisioned creating a a “one-stop shop” online data portal by 2013, designed to ensure that “the different education datasets, education data collections, and education data reports collected by the State are listed in one central location for ease of use.” It would contain data reports; individual snapshots of schools, districts, and counties; tables presenting comparative data; and downloadable files that can be independently analyzed.
But California not only lost out on Race to the Top but also on the competition for $250 million in data system funding. President Obama is requesting money for state data systems in next year’s budget.
Even when it eventually does perform as designed, CALPADS won’t satisfy legislators’ or educators’ expectations. And California has no money, no data governance structure, no software design and no comprehensive plan to begin to meet them.