A recent article in The Atlantic discussed the challenges of using education data to improve student achievement. The article highlighted fundamental issues facing any tracking research – the ability to compare data, in this case, across systems and geographic boundaries as well as across time.
All research requires a high level of scrutiny regarding the survey design and the research methodology, but these factors are especially important for a successful tracking study. Determining from the start exactly what you want to know is vital to obtain the right information in the right way. In our business, we rely on the study “objectives” and always clearly delineate them before starting on a project. This helps to ensure that expectations for the final report are feasible and can be delivered.
The article addresses that although the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 championed standards-based education reform (with a group of measurements known as Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP), major issues arose with the associated metrics and methodology. One substantial obstacle was that states were initially allowed to use different metrics, making comparative evaluations impossible.
Data measurements must also be consistent and connected for individual level comparisons. Research with tracking studies is beneficial because it allows data to be compared longitudinally. According to the article, the ability now exists to follow students at an individual level over time and monitor their progress. By utilizing unique student identifiers matched to students’ test records year over year, an academic growth model can be achieved. Furthermore, this will allow records to be matched to external data such as student-level enrollment, demographics, and program participation information. For the most insight, student data must also be transferable from the K-12 system to postsecondary systems – college readiness data points can then be factored into further analyses incorporating graduation and dropout rates.
Examining the initial organization of AYP measurements demonstrates the “don’ts” for a tracking study. Data must be comparable, the objectives well-defined, and the methodology suited to the overall needs. Otherwise, the result may be years of data that do not provide the insight necessary to develop actionable solutions.
Jorie Kirschbaum, Account Executive