New E-Technologies Simplify NCLB Requirements
The impact of the No Child Left Behind Act, characterized as the largest overhaul of the federal role in education, will affect states and public schools for years. Schools must now plan to comply with the complexities of the new system for accountability. However, many states and school districts are unsure of the steps they need to take to begin the process of creating guidelines for school improvement.
Accountability has always been an issue for our children's education, but never before has it been as high of a priority as it is now. The NCLB Act holds states, districts and local schools accountable for educational performance so that all children have the chance to learn and succeed. As a result, there is a greater need now than ever before for effective assessment and improvement strategies. Many superintendents and state officials are seeking additional information about what this umbrella legislation means for both their students and employees.
The new law requires states and school districts to implement systems and set time lines to close achievement gaps. The NCLB Act provides substantial remedies for children in failing schools and targets high-poverty schools, offering them additional resources for improvement. States, districts and schools report that the complexities of the NCLB Act require extensive data management and strategic planning efforts.
To initiate this comprehensive program, improvement teams need to analyze data systematically to understand the state of their current system and to make prudent decisions that will improve student learning. Innovative research-based programs, staff development, focused and aligned resources, and public participation in planning are critical factors in improving schools. It is imperative that coordinated data and information systems are available to meet the needs of decision makers at all levels of the education system.
State education departments have long sought systems that most effectively and efficiently provide data storage and analysis components. A complex system design that uses the latest cutting-edge industry technologies, and is easy to operate, is needed to bring information together for analysis and improvement purposes. The roadblocks to providing an effective information systems environment have included a lack of communication between data systems and a lack of proximity as to where data systems are managed. Information is often stored at the school, district and state levels, and is frequently housed in multiple formats. Consequently, stakeholders have not had access to critical data and information necessary in making decisions on how to plan for improvement.
Despite these data management challenges, public schools must find a way to improve student performance and report results. Some states are looking toward complex data warehousing solutions to manage information. However, there are alternatives that can ease this process and provide substantial savings. Data management is simplified by using sophisticated integration methodologies and new e-technologies that use XML. Solution providers are able to take the information set that the end user needs, while making use of the systems already in place to provide the data necessary in making research-driven decisions.
Utilizing new technologies that integrate data proves to be the most efficient means of approaching a comprehensive assessment, planning, implementation and review of improvement efforts. There is an emerging set of business and education solutions' providers developing technologies using existing data architectures to provide a newfound wealth of information. These Web services and business intelligence models can save schools hundreds of thousands of dollars in planning for improvement. In addition, this one-stop shopping for information provides a single access point for users, making information access more efficient and pervasive in K-12 education. Integrating Web-based solutions embedded in a browser also flattens the learning curve and reduces the professional development costs throughout implementation.
New e-technologies utilize XML Web services that allow communication and collaboration to come from multiple people, places and applications. Convenient for the end user, Web services offer a platform for application integration from various sources that communicate with one another regardless of where they are stored or how they were created. XML Web services work with standard Web protocols (HTTP and TCP/IP); therefore, all information in existing Web infrastructures can be fully utilized.
Data-driven decision making will be one area in which these new and emerging technologies provide access to previously inaccessible data and information. And for some time now, a variety of data desegregation tools have been used by schools and districts. However, by incorporating XML and Web services, users will now be able to integrate data and information into a standard suite of tools. This will provide information in views that customarily would not have been seen by the user in the past. Even data that exist only in legacy or antiquated systems can be seamlessly integrated with contemporary data systems, providing a new level of application extensibility. This allows for the data-driven decision-making process to be embedded into the school or district culture, instead of just being an afterthought.
In addition, the importance of scientific research has taken on a new level of importance both at the state and federal levels. Using the components integrated into the Web services tool set, research can now be delivered in an accurate and compelling fashion. Users will be able to search sites that have been identified by their school, district, state or federal representatives as educationally relevant without having to step into the abyss of the World Wide Web. In turn, this will allow teachers, administrators, parents and students to examine only those sites that provide the content and information aligned to their inquiry. This feature will save time and money, but more importantly, it will provide users the information they were expecting without having to rifle through unwanted pages. It will also provide an avenue for the novice research analyst to align goals and objectives to sound educational research without first trying to find out where all of the information is located.
A greater use of new technology will ease the strategic planning process. To help improvement teams meet NCLB requirements, MGT of America has created a new Web-based management system that simplifies the steps needed to fulfill the components of the education act. The ePLAN Education Management System is tailored to assist schools, districts and states in developing data-driven, goal-oriented, research-based plans through the Web.
Combining XML and Web services integration gives the user the advantage of using previously inaccessible data and information in evaluation and planning. This system assesses a school's strengths and weaknesses, implements strategies and activities to address each school's needs, and continually evaluates a school's progress toward achieving objectives and meeting goals. A multitude of resources are provided in each step of the process, including overviews, rubrics, surveys, worksheets, research, planning calendars, sample plans and clarifying documents.
The ePLAN system emphasizes continual growth and gives educators an opportunity to address immediate instructional and managemental issues by helping define and manage the variety of connections among people, resources, information and data. State Departments of Education interested in saving time and money may also wish to utilize resources that bring all of the necessary elements together to make data-driven, research-based decisions on improving student learning.
MGT of America Inc.
This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.