New York has made significant progress in its ability to collect and protect education data to improve student achievement, according to a new report.
Data Quality Campaign's ninth annual state analysis, Data for Action 2013: Right Questions, Right Data, Right Answers, concludes that "states have more capacity than ever to use secure education data, but need to place a greater focus on using the right data to answer the right questions to improve student success."
The report's title speaks directly to the controversy roiling New York about student information and privacy.
"This is really important no matter what side you’re on, and there’s a lack of trust," DQC Director of State Policy and Advocacy Paige Kowalski said yesterday.
Lack of trust has led to an explosion of opposition in the past month to the data collection aspect of New York state's education reform agenda.
School trustees across the lower Hudson Valley have voted to "opt out" of the "dashboard" reports from EngageNY, the portal that will put the data in useable form and provide parents as well as educators with access. A group of parents in New York City has sued the state Board of Regents and Education Commissioner. Local lawmakers are sponsoring legislation to limit access to and use of student information.
New York is unique in this, Kowalski said. "We see these same kinds of dashboards for parents and teachers in states across the country. Oregon, Kentucky, they’re not having this debate."
Among the concerns local parents and school officials are voicing: they don't want the data mined by anyone other than educators and parents—for example, the for-profit education industry; and they fear information about such things as attendance and suspensions will be shared with colleges and employers in the name of "workforce readiness."
Harry Phillips III, the lower Hudson Valley's representative on the state Board of Regents, which oversees the Education Department, said much of the fear he's hearing comes from parents of special-education students. They don't want their child's diagnosis shared widely, forever.
These are all valid concerns, and must be addressed, said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, executive director of DQC, in a press briefing Nov. 18 about the new report, and about some of the myths about student data collection and use.
"While we’re doing everything possible to correct those myths there are also legitimate concerns being raised by parents and policy officials," she said.
The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, national advocacy organization committed to realizing an education system in which all stakeholders—from parents to policymakers—are empowered with information to improve teaching and learning.
It argues that there are 10 essential elements to any high-quality data system: an identifier for all students and teachers, student level enrollment, test, transcript, graduation and dropout data, information on untested students, the ability to link teacher and student data, the ability to match data from pre-K through college, and a data audit system.
The DQC folks point out that school districts and states have been collecting vast amounts of information for a long time. It just hasn't been in a format that helped teachers teach and parents understand how their kids are doing.
In fact, it has been used by bureaucrats playing the "blame and shame" game, they acknowledge.
Only recently have states grappled with the issue of making the data useable so that policies can be informed by accurate information instead of best guesses or gut feelings in addition to informed opinion.
In the days of paper files, "longitudinal" data, showing a student's grades, evaluations, tests, help over time, weren't readily available. Nowadays, that information is on computer, but not in easily retrievable or understandable form. And teachers don't have the training or time to sift through multiple multi-paged reports and spreadsheets and cut and paste the data themselves.
And only in 14 states do parents have access to all the data compiled over the years about their kids, Guidera said.
Privacy, security and confidentiality are huge issues, and DQC offers several resources about what parents should be asking.
In addition, New Yorkers might find other states' privacy policies useful, Kowalski said. Oklahoma just passed a law defining how long student information will be stored, who will use it and who's responsible and accountable.