BRATTLEBORO -- Education officials around Windham County say proposed changes to how the state collects and reports school data will help teachers and administrators.
Gov. Peter Shumlin and Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca announced last week that Vermont had been awarded a $4.95 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to modernize and upgrade how schools and supervisory unions report and then access student information.
When the new system is in place it will be easier for administrators to send information to the state, and teachers and school officials will have access to more timely and accurate information on their schools and students.
It will probably take about three years for all 62 supervisory unions in the state to become part of the new system, but Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Curriculum Coordinator Paul Smith said when the changeover is in place, both the Department of Education and the local school districts should have access to more accurate and timely information.
"Right now I can look at how my students are doing, but it is very difficult to see how they are doing compared to other cohorts around the state," Smith said. "There is clearly a need to have better tools to analyze larger scale data from the school level on up."
It is currently time consuming and cumbersome for administrators to compare student information across the district and the state, Smith explained.
Then the benchmark would not be that every student is at 100-percent proficiency, but instead that all of the students are improving at their own speed.
The proposed statewide data system will make it possible for schools to track students as they move through the school system, and also if they move into other schools outside of the district.
"One question that keeps coming up, is how are these students doing as they proceed from year to year?" said Smith. "It is my understanding that it is going to be much less time consuming to do that with the new system."
Smith also said the change comes at a good time for WSESU as the supervisory union is winding down its current contract with its data support company.
"With this grant, Vermont will finally have timely access to the information we need to fix problems and identify strengths that improve education for every student," Shumlin said when he announced the almost $5 million federal grant. "Now we will be able to quickly determine how many students have taken geometry by the ninth grade, for example, and work with other districts, schools and teachers to require that standard."
At least $600,000 of the grant can be used to help districts pay for any training or software upgrades that might be required to connect with the statewide system.
The state hopes to extend the information to the pre-kindergarten and college information databases, and also to provide services through the Agency of Human Services, the Department of Labor and other state offices.
Matt Martyn, Director of Technology in the Windham Central Supervisory Union, said administrators across the state are working with their own information systems, and then developing their own methods to get the state the information required.
He said under the proposed system, officials will all be working with the same forms, and then accessing the information within the same familiar reports.
Once the reporting standards are established, Martyn said the state and local districts should be able to spend less time reporting data and more time using it.
"It sounds like the whole system will be streamlined," he said. "The state requires us to file a lot of reports, and each district has to solve its own problems to get the state the data. Hopefully we won’t have to reinvent the wheel every time a new collection comes out."
Vermont Department of Education Information Technology Director Brian Townsend said the state will probably bring on about 20 districts each year over the next three years, with the initial 20 districts taking part in a pilot program.
Districts are currently required to provide the Department of Education with a wide variety of information from test scores to attendance records to special education data.
Townsend said when the new system is in place the data will be sent with the same forms, and administrators across the state will be able to easily compare their records with other schools and districts.
"The key change is that secretaries will only have to enter data once and they will do it directly into the system." Townsend said. "We are hoping, when the system is in place, that it will make life easier."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279