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Standards: Why and What? November 11, 2009

Posted by ajackl in Department of Education, Education, Enterprise Architecture, Standards.
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My good friend Georgianna asked me a series of question in her comments to my post. They were great questions so I decided to blog on them!!!!:

>I find this conversation interesting and wonder if you could discuss the “why” of the standards?

This is an interesting question which I am daunted at the prospect of answering in a real way as opposed to giving a glib answer. Philip Howard wrote a post recently that speaks to some of the data reasons for a common data standard or data model.

I think there are some important considerations that make standards important. The following five points were identified by the State Chief School Officers as critical to the nation’s data needs (thanks to Chris Lohse, Director of Data and Research for his articulation of these). These are in my opinion the reasons why we need data standards.

1. Liquidity – Data liquidity is by far the most discussed challenge around education data. Today, the term has gained much more traction in the context of healthcare and patient records, but the fundamental concept as applied to education is that a student’s data should move with him or her and should not be bound to a particular school information system or district data system. As one healthcare commentator noted, it is after all, the individual’s data.

2. Comparability – We struggle greatly in education with developing common definitions for even the most straightforward of education terms. During a workshop in Toledo, OH, participants at six different working tables were asked to write their definition of ‘high school graduation rate.’ Participants were then asked to pass their definition to the next working table and have the participants at that table interpret the new definition just handed to them. The results demonstrated 1) nobody had the same definition of ‘high school graduate rate’ and 2) nobody agreed with the definition that was shared with them. Until common definitions for even our most basic educational outcomes are defined, we will be greatly limited in our ability to actually understand what is happening among all students across the country – and even across a state or school district.

3. Relevance – Schools and districts collect swaths of education data but much of what is collected has limited value to teachers, parents, students, and school leaders. More often, the data are merely tracking outputs, rather than an actual change in status or condition. For example, under No Child Left Behind, many saw limited value in knowing whether teachers were highly qualified according to certifications, tenure, and degree attainment. Rather, a more relevant outcome and metric would be a gauge of whether teachers were effective in terms of student growth.

4. Timeliness – Discovering that a particular student is behind their growth and learning trajectory at the end of a school year, with little to no time to change course, is of limited value. Instead collection, analysis, and reporting information about students, teachers, schools, school leaders, and districts should take place on a time schedule that allows for change of course and performance improvement. Data and analysis provided beyond the point when corrective action can be taken is, at best, useless. At its worst, it is irresponsible.

5. Accuracy – The strategy and analysis emerging from good information is only as good as the underlying data. Increasingly, self-validating data collection tools are improving data accuracy. Put simply, when relevant data are presented to teachers and other education stakeholders in a timely, coherent way, those stakeholders begin to ensure the quality of the data inputs.

>Are they to define or align expectations in US education?

This is a key thing for us to remember- there are different kinds of standards. There is work ongoing with 48 states to create a comparable, standardized set of student expectations. These are academic content standards. I am primarily talking about data standards.

These are more about defining data elements, their data type, their length, their description, their relationships with other data elements. For example – Student First Name, Course ID, Enrollment Status, etc. I would call these “data standards”.

There is a new effort coming under way which I will be involved with and documenting closely to set data standards in the country. This is being done in partnership between USED, CCSSO, SHEEO

>If so, in what realm – student expectations, teacher expectations, system expectations?

Yes – the direction is to both support next generation learners and teacher development. System expectations are directly correlated to that. I don’t have space right now to discuss this but it is happening.

Another question that came to me from a discussion with Jean around some pilot work in healthcare – these pilots have created a hospital in which doctors aren’t compensated in a fee for service format, but rather by salary with bonus incentives around patient outcomes.

I began to wonder if there is work going on to define standard desired outcomes for school systems and if so, if there are any areas where teams of teachers and administrators are given an incentive bonus for particular student outcomes?

This is a huge issue. I won’t attack it in this post and much has been written about it, but it is clear that teacher effectiveness and accountability is going to be massively focused on and it is- I believe- a general consensus that some kind of growth model is necessary to do any kind of reasonable analysis of effectiveness of students, educators or systems in education.

Enough for today- more later. Thanks for the questions!


You say Data Standards, I say Data Standards… October 24, 2009

Posted by ajackl in Department of Education, Education, Enterprise Architecture, Schools Interoperability Framework, SIF, Standards, Technical.
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How many different versions are there of data standards? There is a lot of talk nowadays about data standards in the education space and the need for data standards. The Gates Foundation have become standard bearers of that cause (Sorry- couldn’t help myself!). Secretary Duncan has said it is one of the key parts to education reform. There is a great cry and hue for National Data Standards. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) both are pushing for state-lead leadership in this domain and emphasizing its importance, and CCSSO is driving the national academic content standards on bahalf of the Chiefs and in partnership with all the majopr players. I couldn’t agree more with this emphasis. I have given much of my recent life to empower and support data standards of all kinds. However, I find myself in many conversations where people use the term “data standards” and I find myself quoting Inigo Montoya from _The Princess Bride_:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means!”

There are many kinds of standards. To begin a conversation for, ahem, standardizing on some we need to start by determining what kinds of standards we are talking about. In this post I will start listing some standards. I started thinking about this topic newly when my friend BethAnn from Virginia’s Department of Education disturbed our post-conference-session drinks with the question of “What do we mean by standards?”.

There are many ways to think about that. One way is to think about “de facto” standards versus “de jure” standards vs specifications. I think it is important to recognize which ones we are talking about.

De jure” standards are standards set by law, by some authoritative body that has a mandate and the power to say how it goes. In the National Data Standards movement we need to be cautious that we are clear that we are not creating a mandate but an agreement by consensus. If people perceive that the United States Department of Education (USED) is telling them how they need to do their data systems, many will dig their heels in and it differently only because they can. On the other hand, if USED does not take a stand and display leadership then many will not take it seriously. It is a difficult balance we will need to strike. The “http” and IEEE standards are good examples of technical “De Jure” standards as are the various state’s academic content standards.

In fact “De facto” standards are what we need- standards that arise out of use and agreement as THE way to do something not out of an authority but rather out of consensus. That, unfortunately, will require a great deal of communication and more bandwidth between users, state education agencies (SEAs), and local education agencies (LEAs), and vendors than exists right now. The Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) specification has become in fact, in many ways, a “De Facto standards for interoperability in the k12 space, as the Postsecondary Electronics Standard Council (PESC) has become for post-secondary education. The NCES Handbooks are another example of this kind of standard.

Specifications are “a” standard way to do something rather than “the” way. SIF, PESC, and Dublin Core are all examples of specifications. These are easier to pull together but less likely to get adoption because of the lack of authority. This gets blurry when some states start to mandate SIF for example and thus essentially turn the specification into a “De Jure” standard.

So that is one lens to view standards through. I wonder what the dictionary has to say… according to Merriam-Webster Online 2009:

Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French estandard banner, standard, of Germanic origin; akin to Old English standan to stand and probably to Old High German hart hard
Date: 12th century

Interesting – so we need to stand hard.

1 : a conspicuous object (as a banner) formerly carried at the top of a pole and used to mark a rallying point especially in battle or to serve as an emblem

It could be argued that this conversation is a rallying point in the battle for education reform!

2 a : a long narrow tapering flag that is personal to an individual or corporation and bears heraldic devices b : the personal flag of the head of a state or of a member of a royal family c : an organization flag carried by a mounted or motorized military unit d : banner 1

Unfortunately some of the players jockeying to control the National Standards Movement have this in mind rather than the good of education in this country! No, dear reader, of course I am not talking about you!

3 : something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example : criterion
4 : something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality

Pretty clear.

5 a : the fineness and legally fixed weight of the metal used in coins b : the basis of value in a monetary system

Nope. Not this one.

6 : a structure built for or serving as a base or support

This is my favorite- we are building the national data standards as a structure built for or serving as a base or support.

7 a : a shrub or herb grown with an erect main stem so that it forms or resembles a tree b : a fruit tree grafted on a stock that does not induce dwarfing.
8 a : the large odd upper petal of a papilionaceous flower (as of the pea) b : one of the three inner usually erect and incurved petals of an iris

Ahem. I really didn’t know what to write about this one! 🙂 We certainly don’t want to induce dwarfing in our education system.

9 : a musical composition (as a song) that has become a part of the standard repertoire

We can all sing along!!!

Okay. That was fun. But that isn’t even the end of it. There are also different domains of standards.
SIF is an interoperability standard – it creates a blueprint describing how educational data can be moved from one system to another. PESC is the same except its scope is postsecondary, and SIF’s scope is K12.

The NCES Handbooks and the National Education Data Model (NEDM) are content standards. Although NEDM is more of an aggregation of all the standards and data sets out there than a standard itself.

The standards about what a student must know, or the assessment benchmarks that a student must hit are curriculum or academic content standards.

There is a lot of confusion about these different domains and when we are speaking in this national dialogue it is important that we are clear which domain, type and definition we are using.

It is my commitment that we will do this – and that what we build together as we start to build the National Data Standards is clear and that our approach is, well, standardized.

More later. Stay tuned.. same standard time, same standard channel.