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Facilities Information Management: A Guide for State and Local Education Agencies
  Introductory Material
Chapter 1
  Purpose and Scope
Chapter 2
   Customizing a School Facilities Data System
Chapter 3
   Using Data Elements for Analysis
Chapter 4
   Facility Data Elements
Chapter 5
   Resources and Connections
Calculated Data Elements
PDF File (578 KB)

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Chapter 2
Customizing a School Facilities Data System

There is no federal or state mandate for collecting the basic data elements identified in this report, nor is there any expectation that all of the data elements will be useful in every situation. The policy questions, indicators, and basic data elements described in this Guide are intended to serve as a framework that state and local education agencies can use to identify their own education facilities information needs and to promote the standardization of facilities data. By tailoring these basic data elements to reflect local situations, a state or local education agency should be better able to respond to questions posed by educators, the community, and the public about the condition of facilities.

Implementing an information system using these data elements, however, requires the commitment of all those involved in providing, collecting, maintaining, reporting, and using the data. A 1997 report of the Forum, Basic Data Elements for Elementary and Secondary Education Information Systems, suggests a process for selecting basic data elements that state education agencies and school districts can use to support the development of a more effective education facilities information system at the state and local levels. The process for selecting data elements and strategies for putting such a system in place are summarized here.

Process for Selecting Data Elements

The process for selecting and screening the content components of an information system is pivotal to ensuring the collection of useful, valid, cost-effective facilities information. Adopting the basic facilities data elements included in this document, or adapting and incorporating them in part, works best as a collaborative exercise between those who manage information systems and those who use the information such systems produce. Putting in place a system to routinely support education decisions requires the commitment of all those involved in providing, collecting, maintaining, reporting, and using the data.

The process for selecting and screening the content components of an information system is pivotal.

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From an early stage, all parties involved in facilities operations and management should be involved in designing the data collection system. The advice and support of all stakeholders—including facilities planners, business managers, architects, data management staff, risk management personnel, security personnel, school administrators, school board members, and interested members of the general public—should be sought. The following process can help ensure that the resulting system provides accurate, reliable, and useful data.

Step 1

Identify and involve stakeholders.

Promoting “ownership” of the process will enhance its eventual success. Identify the issues that are important to each group of stakeholders and discuss ways to address them. Anticipate possible resistance to change and encourage everyone who will be affected by the process to get involved from the very beginning.

Step 2

Identify information needs.

Identify information that is needed to administer programs, meet state and federal legislative and compliance reporting requirements, and address policy priorities that are unique to the state.

Step 3

Identify data elements that will generate the needed information.

Use this Guide to identify the data elements that will address your information needs. If additional data elements are needed to answer specific questions, be sure they are precisely defined.

Step 4

Review definitions of data elements.

Using existing definitions of data elements will jump-start the process; however, definitions should be adapted to state or local requirements.

Step 5

Examine the quality of data elements.

Evaluate the quality of the data elements under consideration by applying any of the following criteria that are relevant:

  • The data element should be collected on a regular and timely basis.
  • The data element should be reliable.
  • The data element should be valid.
  • The data element should be quantifiable, or otherwise measurable.
  • The data element should be consistently defined by a recognized body.
The data elements, considered as a whole, provide for valid measures of the desired indicators.

Step 6

Consider the efficacy of the selected data elements.

Ask whether the selected data elements provide a net savings in data collection and reporting efforts or a net gain in availability and utility of information. Weigh the costs of data collection versus the benefits to those who will use the information.

Step 7

Update the data elements periodically to reflect changing information needs.

The data system should be examined periodically to determine whether new types of information are needed to address emerging state and local issues. As policy makers move in new directions, different types of information may be needed. For example, if funds are allocated to reduce class size, information on school utilization is critical to assessing whether space is available for these smaller classes.

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Developing an efficient information system is an ongoing activity.

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Putting the System in Place

Developing an efficient information system is an ongoing activity, not a one-time event. The following procedures describe a methodology to help ensure that the information system is integrated into the daily operations of the school district or state agency.

Strategy 1

Adopt a process for selecting basic data elements.

State education agencies should bring together representatives of schools and districts within the state to discuss information needs and ways to collect and record the information. In many states, conducting an ongoing facilities assessment is an “unfunded mandate.” Districts have minimal incentive to provide information for items that are not funded by the state. The state education agencies could use this opportunity to improve the availability, accuracy, and comparability of data they collect in the aggregate. A consensus from these stakeholders should determine what data must be collected by all schools and districts within the state, including standard definitions and data collection procedures.

Strategy 2

Incorporate the process into all data planning and development activities.

State education agencies can use this Guide to review the contents of their existing information systems and the processes used to collect, analyze, and report data. Redundant and conflicting data collection methods should be eliminated. Data collectors and users should be brought together to ensure that the data collection process is efficient and effective.

Strategy 3

Use this Guide to encourage schools and districts to provide better-quality data.

The basic data elements in this Guide can be used to encourage schools and districts to collect the needed information and use definitions that will promote the comparability of data.

Strategy 4

Provide training and support for schools and districts to use the basic data elements.

Data providers and users at all levels will be more concerned with the accuracy of the information that is being collected and maintained if they understand how they will benefit from it.

Strategy 5

Advertise compelling reasons for districts and schools to use the basic data elements.

Although it may be generally accepted that our nation's school facilities need to be the best possible if they are to meet current and future education goals, the relationship between high-quality data and wise decision-making about facilities may not be readily apparent to policy makers and the public.

Strategy 6

Work with software vendors to incorporate the basic data elements and their definitions.

Many data system software applications are available to assist local facilities planners and architects with the operation and management of facilities. To the extent that the basic data elements and definitions are incorporated into their programs, facilities information will be more comparable across systems.

Strategy 7

Provide training to information system managers.

State education agencies should take the lead in providing training on the types of reporting and analysis that will be most useful to federal, state, local, and school-based users of facilities data.

The ability to relate information from different files or accounting systems is crucial.

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Linking to Other Data Systems

More often than not, policy questions reflect multiple categories of information. For instance, determining the adequacy of facilities to meet future enrollment needs involves gathering information from two, traditionally separate, data systems—facilities and student enrollment. The ability to relate information from different files or accounting systems is crucial in constructing useful indicators. Thus linkages between facilities information and other data systems (such as finance or student scheduling) must be in place.

Identification codes are typically the “linkage” data elements that connect facilities information with other data systems. For example, the facilities data system may include building codes, site codes, or instructional space (room) codes. Data elements that can connect facilities and finance data systems include function codes, program codes, and subject-matter codes. Unique class codes may be used to link staff assignments to a given instructional space.

The following resources published by the National Center for Education Statistics or the National Forum on Education Statistics can help in planning a broad-based approach to the design of a facilities data system that provides linkages with related databases:

The use of standard identification conventions makes it possible to link information from several data systems. This is critical since relevant databases may be controlled by different entities. To serve decision makers effectively, school facilities data systems should be linked (although they need not be housed in the same location) with other administrative record systems such as financial, student, and staff accounting systems. An information system also may be linked to the data collected and used by other functional areas within the education agency, such as research and evaluation. Linking data can provide a wealth of “added-value” information, minimize data redundancy, and enhance the capacity of an education agency to make sound policy decisions.

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