Interim committee dissects data collection

Without making any recommendations, the Legislature’s new K-12 interim committee devoted most of its first meeting Thursday to discussing data systems.

Goedde Interim Committee
Sens. John Goedde, right, and Steven Thayn participate in Thursday’s K-12 interim committee meeting at the Statehouse.

Several education stakeholders testified about how up-to-date, comprehensive data can improve education and inform policy decisions. Others bemoaned problems associated with launching the Idaho System for Educational Excellence (ISEE) – the state’s longitudinal data system.

Paige Kowalski of the nonprofit Data Quality Campaign urged interim committee members to improve and expand their data system.

By compiling and studying data that follows students and groups of students over periods of time, educators can obtain early warning signs about students at risk of falling behind, Kowalski said. Systems can also track students into college and the workforce, compare wages and provide a better understanding of whether preschool better prepares students for kindergarten and beyond.

The point of data collection and analysis, Kowalski said, is to answer a basic question: “Is my child on track to graduate college and career ready?”

State officials say ISEE moves in that direction. Idaho was the last state in the country to launch such a statewide longitudinal data system. Idaho sped up the rollout of the system as a condition for accepting federal economic stimulus funds, said Joyce Popp, the Idaho State Department of Education’s chief information officer.

Numerous educators and stakeholders reported ongoing problems with ISEE and its next phase, Schoolnet, a free system designed to allow teachers to review student data in real time.

“Getting students into the system is a challenge,” said Georgeann Griffith, director of information systems for the Lakeland Joint School District.

The data system allowed Lakeland officials to view preliminary Idaho Standards Achievement Tests in the spring, but teachers were unable to analyze final results in a timely manner.

“We never saw the scores in Schoolnet until this fall,” Griffith said. “That doesn’t make for very reflective teaching practices.”

In Meridian, officials said it was difficult for elementary students to log in using a process requiring a combination of letters and numbers from their first and last names and their birthdays.

The complaints grabbed several lawmakers’ attention.

At one point, Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, posed a pointed question about Schoolnet: “Is it working anywhere, for any purpose, to improve education?”

After the meeting, Horman said she continues to be a big supporter of using data focus on students and improve policy. But she said lawmakers need to answer the question of whether Idaho’s longitudinal data system is effective or needs to be retooled.

Data protection was a concern to Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett. “How secure is the data, because data is not real accurate in many cases?”

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, pledged to run a bill in 2014 to carve out privacy and data security safeguards.

The resolution creating the committee assigns lawmakers “to undertake and complete a study of how to improve and strengthen Idaho’s K-12 educational system and all matters relating thereto.” When the interim committee next meets Oct. 2, the agenda will shift to labor and bargaining issues and school safety.

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Sen. John Goedde

Goedde, who also served on Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force, said the interim committee’s work and task force’s work will likely overlap. But Goedde said the challenge for both groups it to turn ideas into successful laws or policies.

“An interim committee report or a task force report that sits on a shelf is nothing,” Goedde said.

About 30 people attended Thursday’s meeting, filling only a fraction of the roughly 200 seats in the Statehouse’s Lincoln Auditorium. Speakers included Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, task force chairman and State Board of Education member Richard Westerberg, State Board president Don Soltman and representatives from the Idaho Association of School Administrators, Idaho Education Association, Idaho School Boards Association and Idaho Association of School Business Officials.

More reading: Check out Kevin Richert’s live blog for the play-by-play and highlights from Thursday’s interim committee meeting.

Disclosure: Schoolnet is funded through a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, which also funds Idaho Education News.