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West Virginia Launches New Education Database

The system was created to provide public access to essential data and analysis tools the department claims will support student achievement and school improvement.

by Samuel Speciale, Charleston Daily Mail / December 23, 2014

(TNS) -- The state Department of Education has launched an online database that aggregates school data such as designations, test scores and student proficiency rates.

Funded by a $4.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the database was created to provide public access to essential data and analysis tools the department claims will support student achievement and school improvement.

The database, called ZoomWV, was launched last week in conjunction with the release of state assessment scores. It can be accessed through the department’s website.

In a media demonstration Monday, Suzanne Davis, a data specialist for the department, said the database is a modern application of many things the state has been doing for years.

“We’ve collected data since the 1990s, but there has never been a user-friendly way to report it to the public until now,” she said.

While the project was given the OK in 2012 when the department sought grant money to fund the creation of a statewide data system, it wasn’t until April of this year that development started.

“It’s been a quick rollout,” Davis said.

In April, the department contracted Versifit, a Wisconsin-based education technology company, to create the database. The company has developed similar reporting sites for education departments in Oregon, Hawaii and Wisconsin as well as 700 individual school districts.

The database cost an estimated $1.54 million, according to Versifit’s initial bid.

The website collects education data and provides a thorough look at where the state and each county and school stands in terms of enrollment, assessment results and graduation and attendance rates. Each subject also can be analyzed by different subgroups such as race, socioeconomic status and free or reduced price meal participation.

The need for such a system has increased in recent years as the U.S. Department of Education pushes states to improve student achievement through more rigorous assessments. By tracking and analyzing the data it collects, the department hopes to better identify which schools need assistance and whether curricula needs adjusting.

That has been a controversial move, especially among Common Core opponents who believe data compiled by school systems will at some point be leaked to or shared with outside parties.

While there are no data collecting mandates for states that adopt Common Core, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said its collection is needed to track student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

While all state departments of education gather and use student data in some form, Davis stresses that protecting student privacy and confidentiality is a priority in West Virginia.

“Student-level information cannot be accessed through this database,” she said. “In fact, that information is on a completely separate server.”

Davis, who works in the department’s office of legal services and accountability, said the system housing student data is kept segregated from the online database as an added layer of security. She also said it is more or less hack-proof.

In addition to keeping student data separate from what is reported online, the department has other safeguards such as data encryption and the granting of access only to departmental staff with verified credentials.

The state Board of Education also codified last year a pledge to not share student information with third parties, a move made to appease several citizens who were concerned with the state’s adoption of Common Core. The policy does permit the sharing of information with state offices and education agencies, but restricts access to only educational purposes.

The online database will be updated periodically with assessment scores and school designations coming once a year.

©2014 the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.)

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