Making Strides with Educational Data: The Pennsylvania Department of Education Is Creating a Statewide Information System to Support District Planning and Student Achievement

Article excerpt

We live in a data-driven world. Marathon runners, for example, glance at their watches hundreds of times over a 26-mile course to establish and maintain a suitable pace. They also continually collect data as they run, assessing the temperature to determine if they need to remove a sweatshirt, and gauging the terrain to tailor their efforts to the hills, wind, and surface. Most importantly, all runners have a wealth of qualitative data to share about the steepest ascents on every course, the camaraderie and challenge of every race, even the cheering fans lining the courses.

In education, however, we do not believe that assessing our students yearly with statewide tests provides enough data for us to determine whether or not they are achieving--just as knowing only a marathon runner's finish time would not convey enough information to understand and predict his current or future success. These test results are also inadequate to provide all of the information necessary to ascertain if we are educating all of our students well, or helping them succeed. Only a systemic approach to information will provide the appropriate solution.

Drowning in data. On the other hand, sometimes it feels like we are drowning in data because we cannot pay attention to all of the data available to us. The assessment and reporting provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), coupled with the law's accountability provisions, have expanded the need for data collection, analysis, and reporting. Thus, the challenge for education in these first decades of the 21st century is to get beyond the profusion of data to knowledge, as well as focus on the indicator data most critical to our challenge of educating students.

Creating a Culture of Teaching and Learning

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is working with local education agencies throughout the Commonwealth to create a culture of teaching and learning in every school that is student-centered, data-informed, personalized, and results-focused. Each of these elements must be supported seamlessly by systems, resources, technology, and shared leadership organized around and in support of student learning.

Transparent access to data. To meet the challenge, Pennsylvania is working on multiple systems to build more transparent access to data that leads to the development and exchange of meaningful information. Shared leadership based on common goals and communities of practice is contributing to the development of an enterprise-wide security framework and Web portal infrastructure. This portal will support the architecture for a statewide student information management system (SIMS), a comprehensive strategic planning tool and reporting system, and the Pennsylvania Educational Portal.

Focusing on indicator data. To help guarantee access to quality data and its meaningful interpretation, the PDE developed a Data Dictionary (www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/subject/advcoun/ solidwst/2000/DataDictionary.htm) of standard data elements and definitions to streamline and standardize data. A PDE Data Council representing most bureaus and divisions, data collectors, and program staff came together to establish a standard set of definitions based on National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) standards and the data initiatives of the Data Council. The result has been a reduction of data elements from 4,500 to 400, which represents the first steps in our commitment to focus on indicator data.

Development of an Academic Infrastructure

The SIMS. The Pennsylvania Information Management System (PIMS) is a statewide longitudinal SIMS being developed to let Pennsylvania's 700 local education agencies maintain their current local student information systems and input record-level data into Web-based systems, while maintaining the security and privacy of student data. …