From fax to facts: How data is forming education
You don’t have to ask a school administrator whether the Iowa Department of Education asks for lots of data. It does. Sure, lots of the collected data meets the state and federal requirements to ensure compliance on various programs.
Neese, a consultant, and Petersen, a data warehouse analyst for the Department of Education, say the data collected by the state agency can give you a snapshot of a district or the big picture of how education is faring statewide. It spots which schools are excelling, which are not, and can act as a predictor, of sorts, of future performance.
It’s not hard to see that data collection keeps Neese and Petersen busy. The Department receives 2 million records each year on assessments. And information is collected on 700,000 students three times a year (the students remain anonymous, but are tracked with special identification numbers). Data collected ranges from demographics to the types of courses students are taking.
Most important, however, is that the data can help steer schools in the right direction.
“In today’s day and age of data collection, there’s a lot of pressure to make decisions quickly,” Neese said. “With our data collection, a school can reach out to similar schools statewide and find out what they are doing right. There is less of competitiveness in education and more collaboration – people want to see their students succeed. Using a comparison tool with data is critical.”
“Districts would fax results, and someone here would put it into main frame,” Petersen said. And there the data would sit, solely for the use of the Department. That’s changed.
“All districts and schools can now access data from our system,” Petersen said. “Educational players throughout the state can take the data and put it together in meaningful ways – such as, ‘How are we doing compared to other schools or districts?’”
“Data can help create a picture of what a school, district or AEA is doing,” Neese said. “It gives an insightful view.”