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The Demands of Data Under NCLB

Procrastinating your collection and compilation could lead to a district’s doom by Raymond Yeagley
No Child Left Behind has created a new imperative for careful accounting that isn’t about the accuracy of your school district’s financial balance sheet.

Nearly every school district leader is aware that in defining “no child” and determining what will leave some children behind Congress has mandated new record-keeping demands in two major areas: student academic performance data and staff qualifications.

Your district may not have been asked for all the data yet because, during the initial period for NCLB, some states have used available data and promised complete, accurate and timely information at the end of the phase-in. Thus some lead time will enable tweaking of student and staff information collection.

During this preparation time, it is important to understand the data requirements of NCLB. If your school district procrastinates its data collection and organization, you may find that reconstructing prior years’ information will be as difficult as putting Humpty Dumpty back together.

Data Categories
Central to measuring progress under NCLB is disaggregation of data for six distinct though overlapping student categories: race/ethnicity, economic disadvantage, disability, limited English proficiency, migrant status and gender. Some of these will present significant challenges for schools and districts.

* Race and Ethnicity. Although the federal government has been discussing a revision in race and ethnicity classifications since 1994, there still is no official word on how America will slice and dice diversity in the future. Original discussions among some federal departments included a request for a three-year phase-in period to permit schools and other reporting agencies to make the transition. However, with deadlines looming and no final word at this time, there may be a greater rush in generating the new information.

If you haven't recently checked your student records for accuracy, you may need to update designations for some students who entered your schools before the last round of revisions. No doubt, some additional changes will be needed once the final classifications are known. For example, the previous classification system combined Asian and Pacific Islander, while the current system separates those two populations and specifically designates Native Hawaiians with Other Pacific Islanders.

Classifications currently used for race are (1) African American, (2) American Indian or Alaska Native (3) Asian, (4) Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and (5) White. Ethnicity is defined as (1) Hispanic or Latino and (2) Not Hispanic or Latino.

Remaining issues focus primarily on multi-racial reporting. While there is no final word on what combinations will be used, some federal discussions have involved up to 64 racial and ethnic combinations, suggesting that school districts need to be ready for a much more complex classification system. The good news is that NCLB specifies that the data will be disaggregated by the "major" racial and ethnic groups, which probably will limit the disaggregation to just a few categories even after the final designations are approved.

Regardless of the final race and ethnicity categories, prudence suggests periodically checking the accuracy of your race/ethnicity data. If you haven’t done so recently, ask the parents of any children whose designation might be questionable to verify or correct your information. Don’t rely on physical appearance, name, birth location or other hints in designating race and ethnicity for your students.

My school district inadvertently caused some hard feelings a few years ago when we failed to ask. Rather than phone the parents to double-check, a district employee chose a designation based on physical attributes that seemed incontrovertible. The designation may technically have been valid, but the parents were quite upset because they identified with a different heritage than what had been chosen.

In creating your grid, include an "other" category with a cell where parents can define their children’s racial and ethnic heritage in their own words. With the detail generated in this self-reporting cell, the district can later aggregate if fewer categories are needed. Moving the other direction, from general categories to more specific ones, would require a second survey.

A Poor Measure
* Economic Disadvantage. For many school officials, this will be the most difficult information to collect, in spite of the fact that it is already in the hands of the school district.

Acknowledging that it is a poor indicator of poverty for students, education agencies have continued to rely on free and reduced lunch eligibility as the most accurate measure available. Unfortunately for NCLB accountability, U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations restrict the sharing of free and reduced lunch data at the student level with few exceptions, with some states excluding the superintendent and others who are responsible for measuring academic progress.

Even if administrators are permitted access to these data, they certainly can't be kept in a central data warehouse that is available to various staff members. Your district probably will need to designate one person (perhaps the Title I director, who already has access) to submit the data about free and reduced lunch to your state education agency and to conduct local analysis.

* Disability. Your district already may have good information regarding disabilities because of the extensive data requirements under IDEA and Section 504.

In terms of NCLB, two questions must be answered: Does the student have a disability? If yes, is it so severe that modifications are required for the student to participate in the state assessment program?

Each school and district must test 95 percent of its disabled pupils, regardless of the severity of their disabilities. You will need data elements in your system to answer these two questions.

* Limited English Proficiency. With the advent of NCLB, this population can no longer be identified with a simple yes or no. NCLB expects that by the end of their third year in the United States, students will have reached a high enough level of English fluency that they can achieve proficiency on the state assessment. Students who have been here for fewer than three full years constitute the only group exempted from the requirement that 95 percent of your students in each classification be tested. Accordingly, it is now essential to know the date that a foreign-born student arrived in the United States and how your state defines the three-year anniversary for testing.

* Migrant Status. This category refers to students who are eligible for migrant student services under Part C of Title I. In addition to maintaining a record of eligibility for the migrant services, schools and districts need to know the entry and exit dates for these students. In fact, accurate entry and exit information is essential for all students, regardless of their migrant status.

Unless a student has been enrolled in a school and/or district for a full academic year (as defined by your state and approved by the U.S. Education Department), the student's state assessment score is not counted in determining that school and/or district’s adequate yearly progress. The district will need to maintain a history of students moving in and out of its schools that goes beyond the most recent enrollment and/or departure. Some students may move in and out more than once in a single academic year and may qualify as a full-year student in spite of the multiple moves.

Verifying Accuracy
* Gender. While maintenance of gender data may seem simple and straightforward, it remains subject to error for various reasons. These include fatigue of those entering the data, a stray comma in a file transfer or any of several other human and computer glitches. This is true, of course, for all data elements but can be particularly troublesome in what appear to be the simplest to define and maintain because we tend not to check them as carefully once they are in the database.

In checking the integrity of a recent data transfer in our district, we discovered our software had moved a pre-school history cell to the right, resulting in a student whose gender was designated as "Jack & Jill". It was a simple matter of sorting by gender to quickly spot a major error like that. But if the inconsistencies are a bit more subtle (such as your discovery of “a boy named Sue”), you will have to verify the accuracy another way.

*Other Student Information. In addition to the data elements for disaggregation, school districts need some information that applies to the general student population. To determine whether your schools and district have met the 95 percent rule for the state assessment, you will need a census of what students are in membership on the date or dates the assessment is administered and whether they have been enrolled for a full academic year as defined by your state.

Separate from the state-generated student scores, the school and district probably should maintain a record of which students did and did not take each section of the assessment. Finally, high schools need information defining “on-time graduation” for each student, which usually means four years after entry into high school as a 9th grader.

* Staff Information. Determining what constitutes a highly qualified teacher or support staff member is left, at least in part, to states. It is likely that, just as state education agencies track certification, most will track the subjects in which teachers are highly qualified under NCLB. However, local schools and districts still will have a responsibility to assign those teachers within the proper instructional areas for core subjects.

To achieve this, the local district will need to maintain fields in its local employee database to track whether individual teachers are teaching for all or part of the instructional day outside of their highly qualified areas. The extent that local districts need to maintain these records will depend on the model selected by their respective state. At a minimum, the district will need cells, probably in a relational database, that will tie the teacher to each teaching assignment and each area of competence. Additionally, the district will need data on paraprofessionals to ensure they meet the college credit requirement or its equivalent through a local or state assessment. Finally, the district will need to tie each teacher or paraprofessional working outside of his/her qualified areas to students in each class.

Pro-active Posture
The data requirements described here are the bare minimum needed for NCLB compliance in most states. Some states may require more, depending on whether they maintain a database at the student level to track state assessment data for calculating adequate yearly progress.

These requirements are not particularly burdensome, but if a district doesn't make provisions to warehouse the information immediately, it may find that reconstructing data from prior years is surprisingly difficult. School leaders should monitor their respective state plans carefully to ensure they know what additional data will be required of them.

Assuming a pro-active posture in collecting accurate data could mean the difference between meeting or not meeting AYP in your schools.

Raymond Yeagley is superintendent of the Rochester School Department, 150 Wakefield St., Suite 8, Rochester, NH 03867. E-mail: Yeagley@rochesterschools.com. He serves as immediate past chair of the National Forum on Education Statistics.