State makes strides to improve education data access

2011-06-24T17:45:00Z 2011-06-24T22:00:11Z State makes strides to improve education data accessBy ROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
June 24, 2011 5:45 pm  • 

It's all about data.

After scoring dead last in a nationwide study on how well states use education data, the Montana Office of Public Instruction announced it has made significant leaps to improve its ranking.

By the end of next summer, OPI will have a public website with a dashboard that allows users to look up test scores, dropout and graduation rates and academic performance data on any school in the state.

"That's the most exciting part," said Denise Juneau, the state's superintendent of public instruction.

The data will be organized by age, class, race, gender and other categories, said spokeswoman Allyson Hagen.

That will allow educators and lawmakers to identify trends and highlight what's working well in the state and what needs more attention.

For example, the state's new program, Graduation Matters Montana, came from data that showed the state's alarmingly high dropout rate.

"It's great we've been able to look at trends," Juneau said.

The study that Montana failed was conducted by the Data Quality Campaign -- a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates using better data to increase student performance -- and graded states on two 10-point checklists.

Montana was the only state to score zero on the first checklist, meaning it had done nothing to "create a culture in which quality data are not only collected but also used to increase student achievement."

Now, with the implementation of this new system, the state will have crossed six items off the 10-point checklist. The final four items are policy requirements and will have to be taken up by the state Legislature, Juneau said.

OPI is using a $5.7 million federal grant to pay for the new program, Vexcel, and its accompanying training. Vexcel is also used by the Nebraska Department of Education.

Both Vexcel and the Data Quality Campaign are supported by Microsoft.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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