Education data site will allow parents to compare schools
Utah parents have long had the ability to find data about their children's schools online.
But not like this.
The State Office of Education is about to launch a new,public online data site that will allow parents to more easily find all sorts of information about schools, including demographics, test scores, No Child Left Behind results and school rankings.For the first time, they will also be able to, with the click of a button, compare achievement data for schools side by side, or on a graph, including comparing the achievement of demographically similar schools or schools in the same areas.Eventually, parents will likely even be able to use the site to look at individual teachers' student achievement an ability that's been controversial in other states and is already drawing criticism in Utah.
State education officials expect to publicly launch the site, called the Public School Data Gateway,as early as this week in hopes of making it easier than ever for Utahns to be informed about their schools. The site will be accessible from the State Office of Education's website.
State Superintendent Larry Shumway said it will give Utahns "access to data about school success in meaningful ways."
"This allows comparisons in lots of different ways. It allows parents to sort data into categories," Shumway said. "This is really a new level of transparency in our data."
The site is an extension of an online data system Utah educators started using about a year ago.That site was designed to allow teachers, principals and administrators to look at student achievement in order to better shape instruction. But state officials launched that site only for educators, not the public, saying at the time it would be too costly to buy the expanded software license necessary to make it public.
However, Shumway said the state office has, over the past several months, been able to negotiate a manageable price. Judy Park, state associate superintendent, said the new system costabout $300,000 in state money.
State education officials demonstrated the new site at a state school board meeting Sept. 9, to district superintendents on Sept. 12, and plan to show it to lawmakers at their Education Interim Committee meeting on Wednesday.
"The superintendents are very excited about the increased transparency the system will bring," said Patti Harrington, with the Utah School Superintendents Association.
The new site will include four basic ways to look at schools. Utahns will be able to see report cards, which will show whether schools met goals under federal and state accountability systems. They will be able to compare schools. They'll be able to look at school profiles that include state test results, class sizes and demographics. And they'll be able to generate lists of all schools in the state ranked by factors such as state test results. Individual student achievement data will not be available, in order to protect students' privacy.
State education leaders, however, say they are working toward eventually including achievement data by teacher on the site. The idea has proved controversial in other areas of the country, such as in New York City, where media organizations sued for the release of teacher performance data and in Los Angeles, where the Los Angeles Times published individual teacher ratings based on test scores, prompting the teachers' union to protest in front of the newspaper office.
Kory Holdaway, government relations director for the Utah Education Association, said making already-public data about schools more accessible is a "good thing," but he's wary of the idea of releasing data on individual teachers in Utah, noting that test scores alone don't convey all the dynamics of a classroom.
"I think just the whole notion of being able to click on a site and say, where's the good teacher, where's the bad teacher, it's not that easy to be able to identify that, given some of the challenges as far as the individual classrooms go," Holdaway said.
Park said the state office is trying to figure out a way to do it fairly. For example, a third-grade teacher might have her students for most of the day, but send some of them elsewhere for math instruction. Or at the high school level, a student might take science from two different teachers over two semesters. She said the state office is working on how to fairly match student achievement with individual teachers before making that part of the public site, and is likely at least a year away from being able to do it.
"Our goal and our intention is to deliver that as soon as possible, but we've got to work through some of these issues so when you see data connected to a teacher it's as fair and appropriate as we can make it," Park said.
Shumway said, generally, "openness is a good policy."
New education data site
O The state's new Public School Data Gateway may be accessible to the public as early as this week. When it is, links will be available at schools.utah.gov and any password protections will be lifted.