Data helps ensure no child's left behind

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Sources for Inside Education include the Education Department and Input of Reston, Va.

Many states are trying to develop systems to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind program, Education's Hugh Walkup says.

Rick Steele

Fresher data is on its way to the Education Department.

The department faces an unusual challenge in collecting information about its programs. Many of its users are not internal, but at elementary and high school programs in states and school districts to which it issues grants. Data reporting is so decentralized and cumbersome that the information often becomes more than a little stale before it reaches Education officials.

'It's a while by the time we get the information rolling up through these different jurisdictional areas on each of our 163 programs, and we don't have comparable data among programs or among states and school districts,' said Hugh Walkup, director of Education's Strategic Accountability Service.

If Walkup has any say, that will soon change. He leads a project to streamline information provided by all states, 18,000 school districts and 100,000 schools. The Education Data Exchange Network will let state and federal officials transfer and analyze information about education programs, speeding data collection and reporting and improving the data quality.

Learning to share

Walkup's catchphrase for the project: Collect the data once and share.

'Our grantees, states and school districts, are upset with us because we put a large reporting burden on them, mostly by having independent forms in each of our program areas that they have to fill out and send to us,' he said.

Also, each program office at Education has a unique set of requirements and definitions, each with different deadlines.

Walkup called together program officers from Education's No Child Left Behind, special-education, limited-English-proficiency and vocational programs, as well as from the Office for Civil Rights and National Center for Education Statistics, to agree on common definitions and requirements for programs that worked.

The program officers compared the data Education needed with what districts and states compiled. States transmit their data in Extensible Markup Language or flat files to a secure, central database at Education's headquarters in Washington.

'Many states are in the process of trying to develop automated systems for managing their education programs and responding to the No Child Left Behind requirements,' Walkup said.

'Our ideal is that they design a system that meets their information needs, and then just program an extract file that they can forward to us at the same time they certify their data,' he said. States are required to compile information such as student achievement in reading and math assessments, broken down by school.

Education further breaks down the information by race, ethnicity, disability status, gender and English proficiency. 'Once you do all those kinds of data cuts, you've got a wealth of information on what students are achieving, and you are able to compare year to year,' he said.

Education ran a pilot last winter, redesigned the system and revisited it with each state earlier this year to confirm the results. The Office of Management and Budget will likely finalize the data elements this month.

State education agencies will transmit data in the first full production cycle in November and December. From January to March, Education will verify the data.

Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego was the lead developer of the Web-based transmission system and repository, using Microsoft SQL Server and XML. Education is working with the Schools Interoperability Framework, a nonprofit vendor group, to establish common standards for school systems to follow.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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