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The Forum Voice: Spring 2008 (Volume 11, No. 1)


Contents

Editorial Board
Welcome New Members
Forum Task Force Updates
New Forum Associate Members
NCES Announces FY 2008 Task Order Awards
Popular Forum Publications
New Forum Listservs
Upcoming Events
2007–08 Forum Officers
Newsletter Information
Links to Past Issues of the Forum Voice

Editorial Board

Bruce Dacey, Delaware Department of Education
Helene Bettencourt, Massachusetts Department of Education
James Haessly, School District of Waukesha (WI)
Tom Purwin, Jersey City Public Schools (NJ)
Ghedam Bairu, National Center for Education Statistics



Welcome New Members

Forum Winter Meeting in San FranciscoAt this year’s Winter Meeting in San Francisco, the Forum welcomed eight new members. We look forward to working with them and to seeing them again at the Summer 2008 Forum Meeting in Bethesda, Maryland. The newcomers include:
    Jim Addey, Iowa Department of Education
    Khaled Falah, District of Columbia
    John McClue, Maine Department of Education
    Erin McGoldrick, District of Columbia Public Schools
    Jim Parsons, Humble Independent School District (TX)
    James Pennington, Iowa Department of Education
    David Person, Maine School Administrative Office #54
    Irene Spero, Consortium for School Networking
    Charlene Swanson, New York State Education Department
    Peter Tamayo, Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction
    Kevon Tucker-Seeley, Regional Education Laboratory Northeast and Islands

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Forum Task Force Updates

The Forum currently has seven active task forces working to develop resources for the education data community, including:

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Attendance Task Force—Showing up for class is generally the first step to a successful academic life—each day a student is not present, an opportunity to learn is lost. But, what exactly does it mean to be present? What qualifies as “in attendance” and what are the excusable and non-excusable reasons for not being at school? The Attendance Task Force, having discovered that answering these questions is not an easy task, has set to making sense out of the myriad policies and practices used around the country to address them.

The task force is producing a document that will contain an exhaustive and mutually-exclusive attendance code taxonomy and explain the importance of accurate attendance data. This taxonomy will help agencies categorize attendance in a more consistent fashion, allowing for better data quality and improved comparability across districts and states. The attendance taxonomy, which compiles reasons for student absences from all 50 states and a number of jurisdictions and outlying areas, is intended to be used as part of a comprehensive student data system. It is geared towards state and district staff who set policies related to attendance data collection and use, as well as school personnel who enter attendance data every school day. Researchers will also find the taxonomy useful as a basis for drawing comparisons among state, district, and school attendance data.

The group will address the differences that exist across states, while highlighting the challenges that make it difficult to apply any single taxonomy to all states—namely those arising from variation in coding policies and practices. Finally, the task force will offer strategies for collecting accurate attendance data and will address the importance of using detailed attendance categories that capture reasons for both excused and unexcused absences. These more granular data can be used to specifically identify why students are not attending school, thus supplying actionable data to inform policy and program changes and help schools intervene to ultimately get more kids to raise their hands and say, “Present,” every morning.

   
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Crisis Data Management Task Force—Hurricane Katrina’s devastating charge through the Gulf region and the subsequent displacement of hundreds of thousands of students highlighted our school systems’ lack of preparedness for dealing with these types of crises. The Crisis Data Management Task Force is working to fill this need, laying out a set of guidelines to help establish policies and procedures for collecting and managing education data before, during, and after a crisis. Guided by lessons learned from district and state education agency staff affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the group urges education agencies to start planning for crises NOW—before a new crisis occurs and data are needed about displaced students.

The task force will produce a short book that identifies a standard set of data elements and best practices for collecting data on displaced students. It will provide suggestions on how to deal with other challenges that accompany such a crisis, including communication with the public, press, staff, and the federal government. The resource will have relevance for education agencies affected by a crisis either directly or indirectly and will serve as a reference point for staff at all levels of public and non-public elementary and secondary education. It will specifically target data managers involved in transportation, assessment, food services, security and other areas affected by student displacement.

   
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Data Ethics Task Force—In an environment where ready access to education data is in increasingly high demand, perhaps more than ever, those who handle education data have to face questions about their ethical responsibilities and the need to ensure the appropriate access, use, sharing, and management of data. But where are education data handlers to look for guidance on the dos and don’ts of data ethics? The Forum’s Data Ethics Task Force hopes to provide guidance through the sometimes murky waters of education data ethics.

The task force is establishing a code of ethics consisting of ten cannons aimed at the practical concerns of education data users. Each of these cannons is supported by recommended practices as well as real world scenarios that arise in schools, districts, and state education agencies. For example, one cannon is currently drafted to read “safeguard sensitive data in order to guarantee privacy and confidentiality” and is illustrated by a story about a data steward who was fired for improperly sharing student directory information with his wife’s commercial organization. To help prevent ethical violations such as this one from taking place, the task force suggests that education agencies: 1) identify sensitive information; 2) establish and enforce policies governing the release of student data in compliance with FERPA; and 3) train staff on their responsibilities under all applicable statutes and regulations.

At the end of the day, ensuring data ethics is the responsibility of an education organization’s leadership, however, the proper daily use and management of data requires the training and good judgment of a wide range of stakeholders including chief information officers, principals, teachers, office staff, school board members, superintendents, data stewards, technical staff, paraprofessionals, volunteers, vendors, and business officials. The task force’s product will be general enough to complement existing data ethics policies, while offering enough specificity to inform the creation of new codes of ethics and the development of training plans to help avoid ethical shortcomings.

   
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Longitudinal Data Systems Task Force—Longitudinal data systems (LDSs) have the power to revolutionize the education system. By informing policymaking and instruction in the classroom, longitudinal student-level data can take the guess work out of education, and vastly enhance data-driven decisionmaking at the policy level as well as instruction in the classroom.

The LDS Task Force is currently developing an outline for its product, which will seek to bring the process of planning, governing, developing, and utilizing a successful LDS into greater focus. With a number of organizations currently working to help guide and support the march toward student-level LDSs, the task force’s product will seek to tie together the disparate work already available on the many aspects and components of LDSs. It will provide an over-arching reference point to help education agencies determine what they need to do, why, and how to best achieve each of their goals along the path to implementing a successful LDS.

Tremendous advances have already been made over the past few years in the development of statewide LDSs including, for example, the establishment of longitudinal unique student identifier systems in at least 45 states (Data Quality Campaign). The Institute for Education Sciences (IES) Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems grant program is approaching its third year, and has already been a much needed catalyst for 27 recipient states. However, there still exists a need among administrators, system developers, and users for guidance not only on how to build the systems, but also on how to make their investments worthwhile—improving efficiency and quality in data collection and reporting, and making the data available and useful to policymakers, researchers, teachers, parents and students. The LDS Task Force will speak to this need, offering an on the ground perspective from a diverse group of representatives from state and local education agencies, schools, the U.S. Department of Education (ED), and organizations including Education Information Management Advisory Consortium, Schools Interoperability Framework Association, Data Quality Campaign, and Council of Chief State School Officers.

The task force’s product will address a wide range of LDS issues, such as building support and securing funding to ensure the sustainability of the project, ascertaining and meeting stakeholder needs, managing and staffing an LDS project, supporting local education agencies, and building interoperability and flexibility into the LDS in a dynamic data and technology environment. The many components of LDSs will be reviewed with links to helpful outside resources. Still, the document hopes to keep an eye on the big picture. After all, LDSs are more than collections of technical components aimed at compliance—these systems have the potential to move educators beyond sample research into the realm of student-level universe studies, thereby opening the door to more reliable results and an education system that is better informed, more self-aware, and therefore, better-equipped to improve itself.

   
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Metadata Task Force—Suppose you were asked to count the number of English teachers in your school. At first, the task might seem straightforward. However, you soon realize that in order to accurately answer the question, you will need to clarify a number of ambiguities. First and foremost, what exactly does the questioner mean by “English teacher?” Is a reading teacher an English teacher? A writing teacher? Must the instructor be certified in English? Does the person have to teach English full time? Without clarification on issues like these, it is impossible to accurately collect and report useful data on this topic or any other for that matter, especially if your data are to be combined with those of other independent collectors all with their own interpretations of these issues.

In its effort to ultimately improve data quality, the Metadata Task Force will explain what metadata are, and why they are necessary for answering these types of concerns. The resource is targeted at an audience of data, technology, and program staff in state and local education agencies. The task force’s product will explore the importance and uses of metadata as well as helpful practices for creating a metadata system in an education agency. It will contain best practice concepts, definitions, and implementation strategies along with planning tools such as a list of core metadata items. Finally, the document will include appendices exploring the concepts of data dictionaries (a component of, but not a substitute for a metadata system) and business rules, as well as examples of metadata/business intelligence staff training materials. 

The Metadata Task Force reminds us that without context there is no meaning. Likewise, without metadata, data are just data. By adding context, metadata transform data into information that can be understood, consistently collected, properly maintained, and ultimately, put to good use.

   
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PK–12 Data Model Task Force—The PK–12 Data Model Task Force recently unveiled its Education Data Model: pk12 Version 1 website for Forum review. The Data Model project is “First and foremost… the start of a national dialogue around data identification, movement and usage—from the classroom to the federal level.”

Designed by representatives from numerous schools, states, federal agencies, associations, and vendors, the Education Data Model focuses on teaching, learning, and the business of school districts, and seeks to align data needs among all levels of the educational system. It presents a “conceptual, but detailed representation of the education information domain,” and attempts to identify and define all of the data elements that exist in the educational data system, the attributes associated with each element, and the relationships that exist between elements.

For example, in the Education Data Model teachers and students are both categorized under the “persons” class. Teachers are in the “service provider” sub-class with attributes such as full-time equivalent and demographic information. Students are sorted under the “client” sub-class with attributes including last name, free and reduced price lunch eligibility, and course completion records. Finally, these two entities are related because teachers provide services to students.

The Education Data Model is intended to help educational institutions, vendors, and researchers to better understand the education data ecosystem, thus, allowing them to create, select, and/or use higher quality instructional, operations, and reporting data systems that contain the comparable and high quality data vital to effective data-driven decisionmaking. A process of formalized update cycles will ensure that the model’s content evolves along with the needs of the educational community.

   
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Race/Ethnicity Task Force—By the start of the 2010–11 school year, a mother and father of different races will no longer be asked to select only ONE race to describe their child. This is just one of the changes that ED’s new guidance on maintaining, collecting, and presenting data on race and ethnicity will require of education agencies.

Under the new guidance from ED, education agencies will be expected to follow a new set of standards for collecting, maintaining, and reporting racial and ethnic data—collecting race and ethnicity separately, adding a fifth race category, and allowing multiple race selections, to name a few of the new requirements. But while these guidelines will allow us to better capture the racial diversity that increasingly exists in our society, how will schools and districts implement the new standards and deal with the problems and questions they’ll face along the way? For instance, how will agencies alert their communities about the change? How will they handle individuals who refuse to identify their own race and ethnicity? Is identification of ethnicity enough, or must every individual also select a race? How will longitudinal studies be carried out by researchers and for Adequate Yearly Progress if the categories change?

In their forthcoming product, tentatively titled Managing an Identity Crisis: Forum Guide to Implementing New Federal Race and Ethnicity Categories, the Race/Ethnicity Task Force will address these and other questions and will try to make the transition from the old to the new race and ethnicity categories as smooth as possible for local and state education agencies. It will set out a collection of best practices to help agencies implement the changes, limit redundant efforts and improve data comparability within and across states, and minimize reporting burden. The product will explore the history of and rationale for the changes, and address issues including policy and procedure development, training and communication, re-inventory of race and ethnicity data after the shift, and challenges associated with coding, reporting, storage. It will also include numerous case studies recounting the experiences—successes and otherwise—of various state and local education agencies that have taken a proactive approach to implementing the new guidance. An extensive summary of “bridging” methodologies that may be used to bridge the gap between old and new data to enable trend analyses will also be included in the document.

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New Forum Associate Members


Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northeast and Islands logo

Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northeast and Islands—With a focus on transforming education into an evidence-based field, Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northeast and Islands promotes the use of scientific evidence to help PK–16 educators at all levels make sound decisions and policies that will improve student achievement and reduce performance gaps among student groups. The organization, a collaboration of the Education Data Center, Inc., the American Institutes for Research, and WestEd, working under contract with the Institute of Education Sciences, has recently joined the Forum as an associate member. It is represented by Kevon R. Tucker-Seeley. REL Northeast and Islands studies and serves the six New England States (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont), New York State, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Current research projects are focused on a diverse range of issues, including high school science performance, data quality, reading comprehension achievement gaps in both English and Spanish, data-driven decisionmaking practices, and parent involvement strategies.

   
The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) logo

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN)—CoSN counts among its members education and technology leaders, policymakers, and leaders from the private sector. Since 1992, CoSN has worked to promote the improvement of K&ndash12 education through the use of information technology. The organization has advocated for policies that facilitate effective use of technology in the classroom and has been a leader in many innovative technology efforts, including the enactment and funding of E-rate and recent legislation dealing with copyright laws and distance learning. CoSN has also developed a number of leadership tools intended to help education leaders deal with challenges involving network and information security, data-driven decisionmaking, and increasing the availability and usefulness of accessible technologies for all students. Irene Spero represents CoSN in the Forum.

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NCES Announces FY 2008 Task Order Awards

NCES has selected three states this year to receive State Cooperative System Special Projects awards, advancing its effort to improve federal-state cooperation in data collection, processing, analysis, and reporting. The FY 2008 awards, each in the amount of $50,000, seek to enhance the quality of education and the performance of all students by promoting the development of statewide longitudinal data systems. The FY 2008 State Cooperative System Task Order Awards went to:

For more information, visit State Cooperative System Special Projects.

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Popular Forum Publications

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The Forum continues to be popular source of information on a variety of education data issues. The evidence? From June 2007 to January of this year, Forum publication site visits and downloads averaged nearly 6,000 per month, peaking at almost 7,000 in October of last year!

The title of “Most Visited and Downloaded Forum Publication of All Time” belongs to the 2002 release, Technology in Schools: Suggestions, Tools and Guidelines for Assessing Technology in Elementary and Secondary Education, which has been downloaded over 8,000 times since its release six years ago. However, the recent Forum Guide to Privacy of Student Information: A Resource for Schools is fast approaching, racking up more than half that amount—over 4,000 website views and PDF downloads since its 2006 release. This publication was also by far the most popular publication of 2007, with more than 5,000 print orders. Other publications in notably high demand of late include the Forum Curriculum for Improving Education Data: A Resource for Local Education Agencies and the Forum Guide to Building a Culture of Data Quality: A School and District Resource, each receiving over 2,000 print orders in 2007. Forum members should be proud of the contribution they are making to the education community. Here’s to more influence when current Forum Task Force Updates release a series of new publications later in 2008.

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New Forum Listservs

New listserv addresses have been assigned for all Forum groups. Addresses will now be @NCESlistserv.com and are available on the Forum’s Member Listserv page. Instructions on how to send messages to your task force, committee, or other Forum group are provided along with information on how to browse group communication archives organized by months and years.  

Upcoming Events

Summer 2008 Forum Meeting in Bethesda Maryland picture  

Summer 2008 Forum Meeting
July 28–29
Bethesda, Maryland
Ghedam Bairu

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2007–08 Forum Officers


Forum Chair: Susan VanGorden, Lakota Local School District (OH)
Vice Chair:  Bruce Dacey, Delaware Department of Education
Past Chair: Derrick Lindsay, Mississippi Department of Education
Staff:   Ghedam Bairu, NCES
   
NESAC Chair: Linda Rocks, Bossier Parish Schools (LA)
Vice Chair:     Helene Bettencourt, Massachusetts Department of Education
Staff: Alyssa Alston, CCSSO
   
PPI Chair: Levette Williams, Georgia Department of Education
Vice Chair:    James Haessly, School District of Waukesha (WI)
Staff:    Beth Young, QIP
 
TECH Chair: Kathy Gosa, Kansas State Department of Education
Vice Chair:   Tom Purwin, Jersey City Public Schools (NJ)
Staff: Tom Szuba, QIP

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Newsletter Information

The Forum Voice is released as an electronic publication. To subscribe, visit the NCES News Flash. To contact the Forum, e-mail: Ghedam Bairu, fax: (202) 502-7475, or write: NCES-Forum, 1990 K Street, NW, Room 9095, Washington, DC 20006-5651.

Links to Past Issues of the Forum Voice

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Publications of the National Forum on Education Statistics do not undergo the formal review required for products of the National Center for Education Statistics. The information and opinions published here are the product of the National Forum on Education Statistics and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the U.S. Department of Education or the National Center for Education Statistics.


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