Forum Guide to Metadata
NFES 2009-805
July 2009

Now these are useful metadata!

Debbie at the district office hated filling out the year-end financial reports for the state education agency. Information always seemed to go one way—to the state—without being useful to her district. Her outlook changed dramatically, however, when metadata in an error report arrived from the finance data manager at the state department of education. "Debbie," the note read, "our metadata system identifies any data that deviate from the state average by more than 12 percent. Your custodial costs were, on average, 18 percent higher than comparable districts across the state. Can you check into it and verify the costs you submitted?"

Debbie knew that her financial records were correct, but it didn't make sense that her district was paying 18 percent more for custodial services than comparable districts—her chief financial officer was far too shrewd for that! She agreed to review her submission, and quickly realized that she had used the wrong code set when querying the finance data system. The state had asked for a cost for supplies and salaries, but Debbie had given them the cost of supplies, salaries, and benefits. "Well, that would explain the difference," Debbie thought.

Unfortunately, Debbie had used the same number in her preliminary budgeting for the coming school year. "Wow, that correction will reduce the custodial costs in my budget! I am glad the state has a system to identify those types of mistakes... Maybe state reporting isn't a meaningless burden after all!"