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Report: Md. making good use of school data

Maryland schools and education officials got good marks for implementing effective systems to collect and analyze student and teacher data, according to a new report by a national group that urges using data to improve student performance and workforce preparedness.

While all school systems capture such information as test scores, graduation rates and dropout information, the Data Quality Campaign advocates for more robust collection of information and broader access to it.

Its goal is to provide policymakers, educators, parents and researchers up-to-date data about student achievement, the effectiveness of workforce training programs and other statistics about specific schools and districts, campaign officials said.

“At the end of the day, the business community is interested in ensuring that kids are graduating from Maryland schools with the skills they’re looking for,” said Paige Kowalski, the organization’s director of state policy and advocacy.

This year, the state met eight out of 10 benchmarks set by DQC, compared to six benchmarks in 2012 and four in 2011. More than half the states reached seven benchmarks or fewer, according to the report.

The report cited Maryland for creating systems that link together several data sets to gauge students’ performance as they move from K-12 to the workforce or on to higher education, and for sharing information about teacher performance with educator-training programs.

It noted that the Maryland Longitudinal Data System, approved by the General Assembly in 2010, is expected to go live late next year. The statewide database will track a variety of metrics from public schools, universities and colleges and government agencies to help Maryland officials determine if students are being adequately prepared for the workforce.

Maryland is also one of 20 states participating in the collaborative Teacher-Student Data Link program, which aims to hold teachers accountable for the performance of students in each of their classes. The program establishes best practices and strategies for collecting data on instructors and matching it to data on their students.

“There are a lot of states looking to do some of what Maryland has done,” Kowalski said. “But there are certainly some aspects of our agenda that Maryland has not led the way on.”

For instance, Maryland schools should do more to provide “data literacy” training to educators so they can learn to interpret and use information that is collected, the report said.

There’s also room for improvement in Maryland’s systems for evaluating teachers, Kowalski said, adding the state needs to do a better job of determining which programs generate the most effective teachers and where those teachers end up accepting jobs.

“It’s not going to help the state of Maryland if all the good teachers are in Montgomery County,” she said. “So once legislators know where the good teachers are, they can try to figure out how to incentivize them to teach [where there is a greater need] … and start to understand where they were trained and which of those programs are good.”

Educators can receive training at a university or community college, in the Teach for America program or in some other certification program, Kowalski said, “but most of those, in some way, are state-funded or state-approved, so it’s important for states to understand who is doing it the best and who’s not.”

“It could come down to changing resource allocations … so you can grow your better programs and improve or close the programs that aren’t performing well,” she said.