ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia is being hailed as a national leader in collecting long-term student achievement data and making them accessible to schools and parents.
A report released by the Data Quality Campaign on Thursday shows that Georgia's year-old student information system — called the Tunnel — puts the state among just a handful that are using data to improve teaching and tell parents how their children are doing. The database allows schools to track students over their entire academic careers, digitizing information that was once kept in paper files in school basements after the school year was done.
"They erased every year and had to start from scratch because they didn't have the resources to store that data," said Bob Swiggum, the chief information officer for the Georgia Department of Education. "Now they have six years at their fingertips."
The state is helping "change the conversation" about the importance of data in improving education, said Aimee Guidera, executive director of the campaign.
"Georgia is an incredible leader in this," said Guidera. "We send folks to Georgia and say, 'There's a lot to be learned from this bellwether state.'"
The data system was a big part of Georgia's winning bid for $400 million from the federal Race to the Top grant competition last year.
Still, the report found some problems with Georgia's information system.
The state doesn't share the data it collects with teacher preparation programs in the state to help them improve their curriculum. And Georgia doesn't require teachers and principals to get training in how to use the data system — though many districts require it anyway.
Swiggum said those issues will be addressed in coming months as the $2 million database expands. It's now in 160 out of 180 school districts, and more are set to come on board.
Once it's in every district, the state will turn on the parent part of the data system, likely by next fall, Swiggum said. And the department is talking with Georgia universities to find the best way to transmit the data to their teacher preparation programs, a move that should be completed by 2013, he said.
The state's student information system took more than a decade to get up and running, with starts and stops because of turnover in the chief information office at the education department. The state received a $9 million grant in 2009 — the same year Swiggum was hired — and the database project was finally launched last year.
"The student information system is an answered prayer for many of us as teachers because we spent so much time that could have been utilized in other ways going and trying to get the information," said Pam Williams, a high school economics teacher in Appling County. "I can look at every standardized test that child has taken at a glance."
Swiggum said the state also plans to link online resources and sample lesson plans to each teacher's profile based on the students in their classes starting in fall 2012. For example, if a teacher has special education students, the resources on her page would be tailored to that.
"It will become easier to do the job because we've eliminated the administrative burden," said Swiggum. "We're simply trying to help teachers be able to teach the vast majority of the time they're sitting in the classroom."
He said Georgia is also working with neighboring states on how to transfer student data, which will help when a student transfers to a school in another state.
Swiggum was honored as the Data Quality Campaign's state data leader of the year in February for his efforts on the student information system.
The Washington, D.C.-based campaign was founded in 2005 by 14 other education organizations. It pushes states to keep better data to help improve public education.
According to the report, all 50 states have long-term student database systems, compared to just a few when the campaign began six years ago.
Georgia Dept. of Education: http://www.gadoe.org
Data Quality Campaign: http://www.dataqualitycampaign.org
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