Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Goldwater Institute: Data Debate

Making student testing data available to public will answer lingering questions

By Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.

In May, the Arizona Department of Education reported in the Arizona Daily Star that Arizona's student test scores were eight percent above the national average. That figure has since been revised to put Arizona's aggregate TerraNova scores at the 51.9 percentile, which is 3.8 percent above the national average.

In trying to reconcile the different numbers being used by the media, the ADE, and other policymakers, I have come to the conclusion that there are too many versions of Arizona's TerraNova scores floating around.

The Arizona Department of Education's source for testing data divides students into two categories, but then notes that the categories are not mutually exclusive. If it is possible to figure out an accurate aggregate score from this site, I cannot figure out how. Meanwhile, media sources use an even different set of numbers, and seem to only list the scores of "Category One" students (but the numbers do not match the state's numbers precisely).

With so many different numbers out there, it is hard to know if the problem is with the test or with the reporting of the results. Consequently, the Goldwater Institute will file a freedom of information request for all Arizona public school testing data beginning with the 2004-2005 school year.

The ADE should be able to make performance data available while protecting student privacy. All data should be available for analysis by anyone and everyone. Transparency is the best policy.

Matthew Ladner is vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute.

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