Ala. 1 of few states meeting data collection goals

Published 5:00 pm Thursday, December 25, 2008

Education officials say Alabama is one of just six states that have met all 10 goals in a national project to collect and monitor data on student achievement.

The National Center for Educational Accountability’s Data Quality Campaign is financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and works to systematically collect information ranging from test scores to dropout rates.

Gregory Fitch, executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, said participating in the project means Alabama can more readily spot weaknesses, such as identifying schools that graduate too many students in need of remedial education.

It also uses the data for economic development by providing information to potential employers.

Alabama and Louisiana met all of the campaign’s goals for the first time this year. Florida, Delaware, Arkansas and Utah are the only states to have previously met the standards.

“Alabama gets kicked around a lot — 48th, 49th or whatever. So this is exciting,” Fitch said.

Diane Sherman, head of institutional research for the commission, said the data collected enables the state to track in detail the academic career of every student “from preschool through college.”

All Alabama students are assigned a unique ID number that is used throughout their academic career. Data on demographics, test scores and class performance are recorded and analyzed.

Fitch said the information is used to trace inadequately prepared students back to the source of the problem, and make changes at schools with poor numbers.

Alabama also began collecting data from private colleges about a year ago, he said.

Fitch said the state is now able to potential employers exactly how many students are studying engineering in colleges statewide, and when they’ll likely be prepared for new jobs.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said in a statement that the data will help states recognize and correct weaknesses, identify programs that work, identify high-and low-performing schools and reverse declines in graduation rates.

“Information is a powerful motivator for change,” she said.

Officials with the initiative said the next step is to follow up by pressing states to make use of the information to improve achievement.

If the data shows a certain group of third-graders is performing below expectations, for example, then schools need to make changes to help them catch up, said Gerald Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.