TECHNOLOGY'S ROLE IN ACCOUNTABILITY REPORTING

In January 2002, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 into law. This sweeping reform makes significant changes in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) originally enacted in 1965 and redefines the role of the federal government in K-12 education. There are four basic principles underlying the changes:

• stronger accountability for education results,

• increased local control and flexibility,

• greater options for parents. and

• focus on proven teaching methods.

Implementation of all four of these principles will impact you in your role as a site leader. This article addresses the first of these, stronger accountability, and how Student Information Systems (SIS) or Student Management Systems (SMS) may be used to meet the stringent reporting requirements set forth in No Child Left Behind.

What Does Stronger Accountability Entail?

Complete information about No Child Left Behind is available at .

However, in a nutshell, here are the provisions in the Act that relate to stronger accountability.

• States are now required to have K-12 academic standards in reading, mathematics and science.

• Beginning this school year, schools must administer tests in reading and math in three grade spans (3-5, 6-9 and 10-12).

• Beginning in 2005-06, schools must test students in each grade 3-8 in reading and math.

• In 2007-08, grade level tests must also include science.

• Results of the tests will be reported in district and state report cards, and made available to parents.

• Data must be disaggregated to reflect socio-economic status, ethnicity, gender, learning disabilities, English proficiency and migrant status.

• Within 12 years, students must perform at a proficient level, as defined by the state standards.

Vendors specializing in SIS or SMS software are already promoting use of these programs to meet reporting requirements.

What Is an SIS or SMS?

Your school is probably already using a Student Information System or Student Management System for some record keeping. These are large software programs designed to manage student data at both the site and district levels and can track student demographics, attendance, grades, discipline, emergency information, health and immunization records, schedules and more. Most programs offer a basic package that includes a core of commonly required data collection tasks, which can then be customized by adding additional modules that target specific needs at the elementary, middle or high school levels. For example, an elementary school can order a scheduling module suited for a K-5 environment, while a high school can select one designed to handle scheduling for large student populations and multiple departments.

Because of the fact that this software is expensive and that information is collected and used at both the site and district levels, the selection of an SIS is virtually always a centralized decision in public school districts. This makes sense for several reasons. Beyond cost, centralization allows for one-time data entry meaning that information in the system pertaining to a specific student may be accessed throughout the organization, eliminating the need to rekey data for students who change schools within the district. Centralized data collection also helps ensure consistency in the kinds of data collected and in how information is reported. Training and support in system use is usually more accessible and thorough when conducted on a districtwide basis.

You may be thinking that this is nothing new. However, the reporting requirements of No Child Left Behind up the ante for school and districts considerably, and even though your district may have an SIS in place, odds are it will need modification or additional modules in order to insure accurate, complete reporting.

How Does This Impact My Site?

Shoring up the SIS will bring positive results to your site, but there will also be some challenges. On the plus side, when the system and/or modifications are in place, staff members who need access to student data will have it. In the past, this has been a problem because use of multiple record-keeping systems has meant that information stored on the site was not necessarily accessible at the district office or vice versa. It should also reduce time spent going to several locations to get information about one student. For example, you no longer need to go to the main school office for emergency card information, the health office for immunization records and the student's cumulative file for grades and test scores.

Other attractive features are single entry for student data rather than collecting and entering the same information year after year or every time a student changes schools, the ability to run queries and examine results on the spot and simplified report generation.

There is a flip side, however. Implementation of systems this large can be a rocky road. For example, there may be an impact on your site budget. It's not uncommon for a district office to pass along some of the costs of software, training and support to individual school sites. Time is required for staff training for every person who will enter and/or access the system. Once training is complete, staff time is required to enter any data missing at the start-up and then on an ongoing basis for new students and updates for existing students. Spotty or partial implementation of the record-keeping system will have a profoundly negative impact on the entire district.

If the district is adopting a completely new or greatly modified SIS, your staff may be asked to run parallel systems until all the bugs are worked out. While this may be time consuming and more costly upfront, it's the safest way to ensure you can conduct business as usual in terms of record keeping.

What Steps Can I Take?

Site administrators, teachers and clerical staff have a huge stake in the selection and implementation of an SIS. It's vital that each group be well represented in the selection and implementation of this kind of system. Following are some suggestions for how you can support this process. • Volunteer to serve on the district selection committee yourself, and encourage staff members to select representatives as well. If the current district committee doesn't provide for administrative, classified and certificated participation, ask the committee chair to consider revising the groups' membership.

• Keep your staff informed about the selection process, why the system is necessary and the role they will play in its use. People don't like change, and will often sabotage a new system by simply refusing to use it.

• Solicit input from teachers and classified staff about what features would be useful and procedures for system use. Maintain an open communication flow between the central committee and your staff. When their suggestions are accepted, let the staff know; if some are rejected, make sure to explain why.

• Help develop a clear plan for data entry that provides a timeline and identifies staff responsible for doing the work. The plan should also clearly articulate steps to be taken if the work is not complete or is not accurate. Although it may seem silly, I have seen situations where poorly defined data entry policies led to squabbling among staff members about who needed to enter what data and when.

• Participate in training yourself, and do everything in your power to release staff members who need training in a timely way. Encourage staff members to begin using the system as soon as possible, and offer additional training opportunities to staff that want or need extra help.

Conclusion

When data collection is consistent and accurate, and report formats are well defined, an SIS enables you to manipulate the data to generate reports for individual students, schools, and districtwide to track student performance. Because you can access data for subgroups of the student population, you and your staff will have a clear picture of progress made by various groups along with overall performance. All this information can be used meeting the No Child Left Behind reporting requirements and for making data-based decisions about the quality of the instructional programs offered at your site.

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