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Long Island

New York on right path gathering student data, survey says

This is a first-grade classroom at Branch Brook

This is a first-grade classroom at Branch Brook Elementary School in Smithtown at the end of the day Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Significant progress has been made by New York State education officials in the way they use data on everything from pupil performance and disciplinary actions to the likelihood students will go to college, according to a report by a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group.

State educators nationwide are doing the same thing in an effort to streamline stacks of student information into centralized databases to help teachers more effectively identify students who need more help or those at risk of falling behind, said Paige Kowalski, director of state policy and advocacy for Data Quality Campaign.

"This data exist in their schools. It's on paper sitting in filing cabinets. A teacher may have to go to six different places to get it, paste it together and analyze it," Kowalski said. "The state is saying we're going to pull it all together for you and give you the tool to access it."

On Long Island, that means the information of about 400,000 public school students will be part of a statewide database of 2.3 million students turned over to inBloom Inc., an Atlanta-based nonprofit that is storing the data in cloud-based technology. The state has invested $50 million to support the effort, which is also supported by $100 million from software billionaire Bill Gates' family foundation.

The high-tech streamlining is not without its critics, including parents concerned about privacy issues and the potential for misuse of children's academic and disciplinary records.

Last week, a dozen New York City parents filed a lawsuit in Albany to block state education officials from sharing the student data with inBloom. Arguments are scheduled for Dec. 6.

"Parents may not have realized how data is being used," said Ken Wagner, the state's deputy education commissioner for educational technology. "The first step toward protecting privacy is having access."

Centralizing and linking the data will help teachers and parents and assist district administrators in identifying programs that are working and those that aren't, Wagner said.

"It's meaningless to gather data if those data are not used for important purposes," Wagner said.

This year, New York has met seven of the 10 criteria -- such as linking K-12 and higher education data -- the advocacy group use to measure how effectively states use different data to help them shape education agendas and classroom instructions.

New York is slightly above average compared with 49 other states and the District of Columbia. In the last survey conducted in 2011, New York met three of those benchmarks.

Connecting data helps educators and parents understand where students go after high school and how well they do once they get to college, Kowalski said. New York is one of 44 states that have the capacity to connect this data.

For example, 80 percent of New York high school students said in surveys they plan to go to college, but only 40 percent actually enrolled, Wagner said.

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