State gets kudos for system to track students

The system is expected eventually to allow teachers and parents to track students' test scores, attendance record, report cards, class schedules and teachers throughout their public education -- and even record the first job they land.

Statewide, 160 of the 180 local school districts are now tied into Georgia's system, which cost millions of dollars to create and took more than a decade to set up. It was in 75 districts in December 2010 after being launched that September.

Nationally, there's been a strong push for states to develop reliable student data systems that can help educators determine what's working and what's not. The Obama administration upped the pressure in 2009 when states had to show progress on their data systems to qualify for federal economic stimulus money.

"Georgia is doing exceptionally well. We're holding it up as a national example," said Aimee Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, which will release an annual report Thursday that rates states on their efforts to develop reliable student data systems and take actions designed to assure that the systems are used effectively.

The report says Georgia finished all 10 of the technical aspects of its data system and seven of the 10 actions designed to make it more effective. It finds Georgia falls short on the goals of tracking students as they move into the workforce, mandating teachers have a working knowledge of the data system to attain state certification, and providing parents access to their child's data.

The state spent $2 million in federal funds on the system's launch last year, though previous attempts that stretched back to 1995 and are said to have cost about $25 million, said Bob Swiggum, chief information officer at the Georgia Department of Education.

School administrators and about 35,000 of the state's 120,000 teachers are using the data system at their desks to access six years of data on their students, Swiggum said.

"We really believe that without focusing on data systems we'll never meet any of our education goals," Guidera said. "We can talk about graduation rates, career and college readiness, but until we can follow students over time and systems, we'll never know if we are truly meeting our goals, and if not, why aren't we?"

Guidera's group has been producing an annual report since 2005. This year, Georgia and 35 other states rated 10 on their data systems. Meeting the goal of tying student data to workforce data was something most states, including Georgia, have yet to achieve.

Swiggum said that goal -- and the objectives of mandating teacher training and allowing parents' access to the data -- will likely take 18 months to three years to achieve.

"We've come a long way," Swiggum said. "But we did the easy things first, the things that are more k-12 [centered]. Now, we're working on the harder ones."

Swiggum said the data system is expected to result in big savings of time for teachers, who currently have to go to the vault to retrieve paper data on each student at the start of a school year. "This way it's already assembled for them in one place," he said.

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