June 23, 2011 in Idaho

Schools struggle to use student data system

Tracking effort panned in Idaho
By The Spokesman-Review
 

NAMPA, Idaho – Idaho’s new multimillion-dollar student data system is causing giant headaches at school districts around the state, and local school officials say it isn’t working.

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said he’s working to address the concerns and that some are invalid.

“This is the first year ISEE has been operational,” Luna told a legislative committee, referring to the Idaho System for Educational Excellence, which tracks students, test scores, funding and more.

“We are the last state in the nation to deploy a statewide longitudinal data system, but we have made progress quickly. This is the most accurate data we have ever had,” he said.

Tom Taggart, president-elect of the Idaho Association of School Business Officials and director of business and operations for the Lakeland School District, told the lawmakers, “We want to look forward in what we can do to make this work, without being too negative, but I think part of our message is a dose of reality as to what’s going on at the school level. … We’re the nuts-and-bolts people who are in the business offices in the schools. We like it when things work, and when they don’t work we like to find a way to fix them.”

The ISEE was roundly panned in surveys of the members of Taggart’s association and the Idaho Association of School Administrators. The business managers survey found that only 1 percent rated the state Department of Education’s overall job implementing the project positively, while 30.3 percent were neutral and 68.7 percent rated it negatively. Asked if their school district “fully understands the reasons for, and uses of, ISEE,” 37.8 percent of the business managers said yes, while 62.2 percent said no. Among the school administrators, 91.2 percent said the project has added “a great deal of additional work” for personnel in their school districts.

Taggart said school districts haven’t been given adequate resources to start up the new system, which comes as budgets have been cut. Trying to get it working has placed a “huge burden” on school district staffs, he said. “They are spending hundreds and hundreds of hours. … A lot of time it’s like whack-a-mole: You solve this problem and three more pop up over here you have to deal with.”

As a result, he said, “I’m not sure anyone can say exactly how many units are being funded this year, how many teachers are being funded. … Normally at this time, we’d have that information.” That’s created uncertainty in setting district budgets, he said. “There’s great frustration out there.”

Luna said any problems stem from districts not inputting needed information and that once the inputting is automated it will work more smoothly. He said his office has heard the concerns, and, “We are taking steps to address them.”

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