How Many Handbooks Are There?
Up until the 1970s, the Handbooks were published as part of a series. In the early 1990s, the Student and Staff Handbooks underwent major revisions and were produced as printed reports. In 2000 and 2001, both Handbooks were updated, and development of the Education Systems Handbooks began. Today, all of the nonfiscal NCES Handbooks, as well as many of the National Forum on Education Statistics guidebooks, are together in one online database referred to as NCES Handbooks Online. The NCES Financial Accounting Handbook data elements (with definitions and components) are also located on the site.
A Paperless Handbook
While updating the paper Handbooks in 2003, it became increasingly apparent that there was significant overlap across topic areas, and that users would probably utilize a combination of Handbooks when developing a comprehensive data system. Therefore, NCES created an online database to house the information in the Handbooks and to allow for timely publishing of changes once they have been approved. The ultimate advantage to the database approach is that users have access to information from all of the handbooks in one location. The database contains all data elements (with their components) and selected defined terms.
Updates to the Handbooks
The selection of data terms included in the Handbooks reflects the best judgment of individuals from local, state, and federal agencies and national associations regarding which data are useful in making appropriate, cost-effective, and timely decisions about providing quality educational services in schools and other education agencies. Considerations included the potential utility of the data, the effort necessary to collect them, and reporting requirements. The identification of crucial information needed for decision-making is a dynamic process. The Handbooks are not intended to prescribe what data a particular school or agency should collect. No governmental agency requires the use of all of the terms, definitions, and procedures included here; however, care has been taken to make sure that the definitions are consistent with many governmental reporting requirements at the time of publication. Handbook users should be aware that due to compromises, as well as subsequent changes in Federal regulations, the definitions and terms used in this resource may not correspond to terms and definitions required for reporting under all Federal programs. Agencies reporting data for Federal programs should follow the guidelines for those programs.
The Handbooks are updated annually. In order to identify needed changes or additions, NCES compiles suggestions and questions sent via e-mail over the course of a year. In addition, representatives from the U.S. Department of Education are contacted to determine whether there are changes in reporting requirements affecting relevant data elements. A group of local, state, federal, and national association representatives are invited each year to serve on a working group to consider the proposed changes and to decide what to include in the new revision. Once the changes have been identified, they are incorporated into the online database.
The definitions included for categories, data elements, options, and entities usually originated in existing sources; others were written with the assistance of experts in the content areas. In some cases, laws or Federal regulations specified what data elements should be used and how they should be defined. Others terms arose from a variety of published sources, such as textbooks, Federal publications, and other documents. For some terms, compromise definitions were created from a range of local, state and federal sources. Most options were obtained from existing sources.
Suggestions for revisions can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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