Monday, July 20, 2009

Ah, “Those Lazy, Crazy, Hazy, Days of Summer” ... No data needed for now, but do you want it and will you have it in the fall?

The summer of 2009 is now in full swing with students, parents, teachers, and administrators enjoying a well-earned vacation from a very exciting, busy, and oftentimes challenging school year.

During this past year, and as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, we have seen a remarkable array of new policies and reforms occurring in K-12 education, backed by an unprecedented re-investment in education by the federal government. While this might not be among the “hot topics” of discussion around the summer lemonade stand or by the poolside, it has certainly been on most people’s radar and in the news almost daily these past few months.

Suffice to say, the immediate impact of the Act is akin to creating a new story-line and a new debate among educators, researchers, policy-makers, and the public about the future of our nation’s educational system. Certainly not the stuff of summertime fun but undoubtedly, a topic that will pick up momentum again as the 2009-2010 school year approaches. If however, you find yourself yearning for a summer thirst-quencher on this topic then consider the following.

One of the major goals of the ARRA is to improve our nation’s education system and enhance student learning through the increased use of technology innovations and actionable data to help inform educational decision-making.

In order to accomplish this goal, two key types of data are needed. The first is data on student mastery of state standards obtained not only through end-of-year statewide tests, but more importantly, continuous data on student learning and mastery of standards that can be used in “real-time” to inform instruction and intervention decision-making. Consequently, technology innovations represented in the new generation of online educational management systems must have the capacity to provide local school districts with an integrated array of locally customized assessment tools aligned with the district’s overall educational plan (e.g., pacing guide) for the year. To the extent that student learning and progress can be captured in this fashion, the second type of data – data that documents the impact of interventions on student learning and standards mastery – becomes a reality.

The paramount and practical importance of local school district empowerment in implementing an online educational management system that provides data in this way should not be underestimated. Rapid access to reliable data on student learning - where the student is and what needs to be planned for next for progress to continue - is a key element for planning effective learning opportunities and helping students meet the educational challenges of the 21st century.

It is perhaps stating the obvious to say that the importance of the data lies not in the need to gather and report it, or to simply answer a question, but rather so that positive action in the best interests of students can occur in a timely and purposeful fashion.

As stated by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, chairman of the National Governors Association, at the March 2009 forum, Leveraging the Power of Data to Improve Education, “…even the best data collection system is worthless if it does not change what goes on in the classroom."

A few of my friends have wondered about this issue. Why collect data, or for that matter use all this sophisticated technology if it does not really change what is going on? Then there are my other friends who point out, that access to the technology and to the data is not supposed to change things, but rather, make change possible. It’s an interesting debate and I can see a valid argument on both sides.

What do you think? Let us know and in the meantime, enjoy those “Lazy, Crazy, Hazy, Days of Summer.”

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