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December 1, 2008
Vol. 66
No. 4

Special Report / Learning About—and From—Data

This month's Special Report focuses on publications that can help educators hone their skills in using data effectively. The publications highlighted point out key measures of school quality, support professional development in data use, suggest action steps for building better data systems, and tackle data and equity issues. And one provides a look into the future.

Measures of School Quality

Good Measures for Good Schools is a practical online guide to key measures of school quality that will help educators evaluate their schools. Created by the Center for Public Education, a joint initiative of the National School Boards Association and National School Boards Foundation, this tool identifies 28 measures, stated in question format, that combine to form a full picture of school quality. The measures are divided into seven categories: student achievement, student graduation, staffing, funding, programs and facilities, district and school climate, and school demographics. The guide provides the national average performance for each measure and links to state and local data, when available. It also provides several tips for using and interpreting data.
For example, under the category student achievement, the first measure listed is, How do students in our state compare nationally? Click on the question, and you'll find a wealth of information: the measure (here, the National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP]); the data it reports; the data source; a definition of the measure; how it reports the data; and the data's usefulness and limitations. The section also includes other key questions to ask: How does the performance of student groups compare with one another? Is NAEP achievement improving? Why does student performance on NAEP differ from that on state tests? A "Learn More" section at the bottom provides helpful background information about the measure as well as links to relevant Web sites and reports.
To access the guide, go towww.centerforpubliceducation.organd click on Good Measures.

Training on Data Use

Forum Curriculum for Improving Education Data: A Resource for Local Education Agencies is a curriculum designed to support the training by qualified instructors of K–12 school and district staff about the issues pertaining to the production of high-quality education data. Produced by the National Forum on Education Statistics, the curriculum provides lesson plans, instructional handouts, and resource materials. According to the publication, the goal of the curriculum is "to present the concepts necessary to help schools develop a culture for improving the quality of their data and to provide opportunities for participants in training sessions to practice some of the skills required for such an effort" (p. 1).
The curriculum provides 12 downloadable lesson plans. Each plan includes a list of the lesson objectives, the lesson's essential learnings, some introductory materials, suggested activities to meet the lesson's objectives, and a summary activity or description. Lessons cover such topics as a culture of quality data, classifying education data, security and confidentiality, data flow and data cycles, and types of data errors.
The publication is available at

Building Better Data Systems

Tapping into the Power of Longitudinal Data: A Guide for School Leaders looks into ways that teachers and principals can use longitudinal data to meet students' individual needs and improve performance. Published by the Data Quality Campaign in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the paper highlights the essential elements of a comprehensive longitudinal data system. It clarifies the questions that snapshot data can answer—such as, Are my students meeting the state's proficiency standards? and What proportion of students are not tested, and why?—as well as the questions that longitudinal data can answer—such as, What is the average academic growth of my students over time? and How are my students doing academically after they leave my classroom or school? The paper also includes six action steps to help school leaders build and use longitudinal data systems.

Using Data to Improve Equity

Using Data to Address Equity Issues in Special Education, from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, addresses the conventions for approaching disproportionality data (data that show whether a specific group of students is over- or underrepresented in a specific category of education, particularly special education). The policy brief provides tools to determine the most effective way to collect, organize, and present these kinds of data. It also outlines the kinds of information that educators need to know as well as the data they need to collect. It also discusses how to calculate measures of disproportionality (using the composition index, the risk index, and the relative risk ration) and how to go about interpreting the data.
Authored by Ashley C. Gibb and Russell Skiba, the policy brief is available

So What's Ahead?

Which U.S. state has the highest projected change in the number of public high school graduates through 2018? Nevada. Which state has the lowest? Nebraska.
If you're wondering what the education landscape in the United States might look like in the next seven or eight years, take a look at Projections of Education Statistics to 2017. This new report, produced by the National Center for Education Statistics, covers six different areas: elementary and secondary enrollment; enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions; high school graduates; degrees conferred; elementary and secondary teachers (including the number of teachers in elementary and secondary schools as well as student-teacher ratios and new teacher hires); and expenditures of public elementary and secondary schools. The projections presented in this report are based on the 2000 census.

Amy Azzam has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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