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Professional Opinion

Our Schools, Our Scores, Our Community

Basic principals for making public sence of assessment results

Whether you have faith in standardized testing or hope the pendulum swings the other way real soon, you have to admit that there's power in data. The question is how that data is understood and used.

Smart administrators know there's an art to presenting student performance data to the community so it can be effectively understood and constructively used. It's not a matter of trying to mask problems or make anemic results look better. As any Enron executive will tell you, tactics like that will eventually come back to bite you. Rather, the goal is to provide enough context so that meaningful patterns become clear.

By now, the annual reporting of school-by-school test scores in the local newspaper has become commonplace. Since much of the raw data for these tallies comes from state departments of education, how it is sliced and diced depends greatly upon sophistication at the top. California, for example, has managed to boil down its multiple tests and myriad other data points into an Academic Performance Index that explicitly includes performance over time. New York looks at data from demographically comparable schools. And Texas works with Just for the Kids, a not-for-profit based in Austin, that provides comprehensive yet comprehensible data school by school on the Web.

Your district should have a clear, accessible and dynamic way to communicate your schools performance to the community. Technology can help you accomplish this goal by allowing you to analyze and chart the data, and then making it accessible over the Internet.

Guiding your data communication project

In a sense, this is what our discussion in this column over the past year has been pointing to all along: 21st century assessment means having a rich complement of meaningful data that focuses everyone's attention on what students need to learn. Together with your community, you can turn information into action.

Mickey Revenaugh,, is vice president at Sylvan Ventures. Formerly, she helped launch the E-rate program.