CA student tracking: $70 million and no system in sight

State cannot come with accurate estimates on test scores or drop out rates. Lack of IT staff in smaller districts is part of the problem.

Despite the recent emphasis on test scores, and an influx of funds spent on a high-tech student information system, California has failed to accurately analyze these scores. According to a report in The Union-Tribune, test scores, drop out rates and other data cannot be accurately analyzed due to an outdated tracking system.

Although $70 million has been spent on an tracking system, California cannot determine accurate drop out rates. The drop out rate is officially 13 percent to avoid a cut in federal funds, but is believed to be 29 percent. Two recent reports, one from Harvard and the other in Education Week, concluded California has the higher dropout rate.

“It is frankly shameful that well into the first decade of the 21st century, the state that is home to Silicon Valley can't provide accurate graduation and dropout rates,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said in a news release.

The delay in implementing a tracking system that can get accurate numbers on drop out rates is mostly due to a variety of factors: budget deficits, bureaucratic in-fighting, disinterested politicians and fear of a computer fiasco.

A competent tracking system is important to improve school by answering such questions as: What programs and teacher preparation work best? What's revealed when test scores are sorted by race, gender, income and other factors?

The state has budgeted $35 million to help the rest of the districts switch to the new system, however, many of the 800 districts are too small to hire IT staff to help with the conversion to a new tracking system.

Just this year, the state assigned an identification number to each of the more than six million students in California, which is expected to go a long way in developing a accurate statistics.

“It's one of those things, whether we had money or didn't have money, it was never sexy enough for any governor to care about,” said former state Sen. Dede Alpert, D-Coronado, the author of legislation creating the new system.

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