Finance Committee Narrowly Approves Plan to Fund Student Data Collection System for Accountability Programs

MacIver News Service | January 8, 2014

[Madison, Wisc…] A plan to continue state funding of a program that will collect student data for emerging reforms like the Educator Effectiveness, School Report Cards, and other accountability programs passed through the Joint Committee on Finance on Wednesday on an 8-7 vote.

As the votes suggest, there was a significant debate over how much data could be retrieved in light of privacy concerns.

The Department of Public Instruction motion requested appropriations of $4,084,200 in fiscal year 2014 (FY14) and $4 million in FY15 to fund a student information system and develop a program of collecting and standardizing that data from multiple vendors. This value-added data would allow teachers, administrators, policy makers, and parents to track student growth over the course of the school year and identify which schools, teachers, and classrooms are making the most progress.

Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) and Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) voted against the funding expansion due to concerns about intrusive data collection for students. Their concerns echoed complaints that hounded the application of Common Core of Data State Standards (CCSS) in Wisconsin. Legislators that served on an Assembly Select Committee to investigate those standards made recommendations to limit what kinds of data the state can collect from students earlier this winter.

Rep. Knudson had taken the lead on investigating any intrusive data collection methods that had been rumored to be associated with CCSS. While the Department of Public Instruction shot many of the attention-grabbing issues down as myths, it’s clear that these privacy issues will remain a concern when it comes to educational policy in Wisconsin.

“We hear promises that DPI isn’t going to collect too much,” said Grothman. “But we don’t know those hard and fast right now, and I am just reluctant to put more money into that data bank.”

Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) lauded the data collection process as a key element to the state’s developing accountability programs for students and teachers alike.

“For too many years, we’ve never really held anyone accountable at the local school building, and now we’re holding teachers…schools, superintendents, principals, and school boards [accountable]. And the only way you can do that is with information,” said Olsen. “You can’t operate an accountability system that relies on 50 percent student data without student data.”

The request will now go on to both the Assembly and Senate where it will need to be voted on before passage.