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Don’t pull plug on data systems, advocates urge 

Brown wants to stop work on CALPADS, CALTIDES

CSBA has joined business groups, lawmakers and other education advocacy organizations that are urging Gov. Jerry Brown to rescind his recommendation to suspend work on the state’s beleaguered student and teacher data collection systems.

In a June 2 letter to the governor, CSBA and other members of the Information Alliance for Education—including Children Now, the California State PTA, The Education Trust-West and Public Advocates—argued that it would be wasteful to stop funding the two data collection systems and could hurt education reform efforts.

The systems under discussion are the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System—CALPADS, which its architects say is about a year from completion—and the California Longitudinal Teacher Integrated Data Education System—CALTIDES, which was scheduled to go online this year.

‘Finish the system’

Despite CALPADS’ initial problems—some of them very serious—supporters say schools need the information that the system is beginning to generate. In his May Revision budget statement, Brown objected to federal standardized testing mandates and the top-down data collection requirements that CALPADS represents. He said school districts can collect their own statistics if CALPADS disappears.

Many education advocates disagree.

“The capacity to leverage these systems to support 1,500 charter schools and local districts is now within reach,” the Information Alliance wrote. “CALPADS is poised to provide basic data functions that the state’s former system cannot.”

Brad Strong, of Children Now, said the governor is absolutely correct to insist that any data system be designed to meet the needs of local districts and schools.

“That’s been our goal all along—to ensure that the data collected can be used to meet local needs—to act as an early warning system, for example, to identify struggling students early on,” Strong said. But it makes no sense to suspend work on data collection now, he added.

“We need to finish the system and build capacity for local LEAs to pull out the data they need,” he said. “Eliminating funding for the data systems now is the technological equivalent of repealing class size reduction on the second day of school.”
Erika Hoffman, principal legislative advocate at CSBA, agreed.

“To totally shut down the system just when it’s beginning to yield useful data to districts just doesn’t do anyone any good,” she said. “We know there need to be changes, but pulling the plug won’t fix them.”

The governor received a similar plea from the California Office to Reform Education, a collaborative of the Clovis, Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Sacramento City, Sanger and San Francisco unified school districts—formed last fall to boost student achievement. In a June 7 letter to Brown, CORE’s seven district superintendents said they were “deeply disappointed” with the governor’s recommended cut to CALPADS. They insisted that despite some significant problems that have required major changes to the system, it would be a “tremendous waste of resources” to freeze work on CALPADS now “when it is nearly fully functional.”

Greg Lindner, director of technology for the Elk Grove Unified School District, played a key role in planning for the CALPADS system. It’s been very difficult for his district to deal with what he called CALPADS’ “inherent design problems,” he said, but things are “slowly getting better” and the system now generates useful data that is helping the district “identify trends and see where we need to improve.”

It would be impossible, he added, “to go back to our old way of doing things and get any meaningful data out of it.”

Veto could jeopardize other funds

The CALPADS system, which survived major program glitches since its launch in fall 2009, is intended to track individual students throughout their school careers—ideally resulting in much more accurate counts of graduation rates, dropouts and student transfers to other schools and districts. CALTIDES, still under development, will collect information about credentialed teachers, including class assignments. Both systems were designed in part to help California qualify for the federal money that came with the state’s participation in the No Child Left Behind Act.

In his May Revision budget proposal, the governor called for suspending work on CALPADS and CALTIDES partly to allow time for a broad discussion of extensive mandated testing and of federal rules that require districts to file massive and—the governor contends—unnecessary amounts of information about students, teachers and various aspects of school operations.
But the Legislature rejected the governor’s CALPADS recommendations, voting to fund continued work on both systems. However, Brown could exercise his line item veto authority to eliminate the funding.

The money comes from the federal government. Approximately $6 million for CALTIDES may have to be returned if the governor blue-pencils that appropriation; $3.5 million earmarked for CALPADS could be spent on other assessment-related services. There is also the question of California’s ability to comply with NCLB’s federal data reporting requirements without an operational statewide data collection system. Building a data system capable of tracking individual students was among the conditions for receiving billions of dollars in federal assistance.