A new study released by a national education advocacy group shows that Montana ranks last in the nation in efforts to use education data to increase student achievement.

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

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

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Dennis Parman, deputy superintendent of Montana public schools. “But we are engaged in a lot of work that’s going to move the needle right now.”

The Montana Office of Public Instruction recently received a $5.7 million grant from U.S. Department of Education specifically to help the state improve its use of education data.

That includes doing things like linking statewide data systems, creating stable and sustained support, building state data repositories and implementing systems to provide timely access to information.

On the second checklist — which revolves around data collection — the state scored seven out of 10 by successfully creating a state data audit system and collecting student-level enrollment, testing, graduation and dropout data.

Amy Guidera, executive director of Data Quality Campaign, praised Montana’s efforts and explained why the effective use of data is so important to education.

“Data by itself doesn’t change anything,” she said. “You need to make sure you’re (using it to change) the conversation.”

The role of education data has become increasingly important as pressure grows to increase student achievement and funding for public schools decreases, Guidera said.

“There’s never been a time when we’ve needed to have this more at our fingertips than now,” she said.

Good data shows what works in the classroom, where and why students struggle and which teaching methods and styles can be most effective, she said.

Parman said those things are within reach.

“From a technical aspect, we have an awful lot of data,” Parman said. “The goal is to put it all in one place.”

The idea is to make the data accessible and then disseminate it to local school districts, where administrators and teachers could then parse it and figure out what programs, techniques and teaching methods work and which don’t.

“We know that we need to get this data to the local level,” he said.

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

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

Education reporter for the Billings Gazette in Montana. Rob covers Billings School District 2 and the smaller districts in the surrounding area.

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