Utah scores $9.6 million to track students

Education » Data would be used to evaluate educational programs and outcomes.
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Utah was awarded a $9.6 million federal grant Friday to expand a system for tracking students from kindergarten through college and into the work force.

"Tracking student progress from birth through college helps teachers in the classroom, helps principals manage and improve their schools, and helps parents better understand the unique educational needs of their child," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a news release announcing the grant.

Utah was one of 20 states to win the competitive grant, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA); every state, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands applied.

Congress authorized the grant program in 2002 with the intention of creating data systems that would track students for the purpose of evaluating educational programs and outcomes. Utah received a $4.5 million grant in 2007, according to John Brandt, information technology director for the Utah Office of Education, which is being used to automate data collection from school districts and implement electronic transcripts.

The new grant will allow the state and its partners in the effort, including the University of Utah, the Utah College of Applied Technology, the State Board of Regents and Workforce Services, to expand a system for tracking students over time.

"It's just a way for us to have better research with our kids and what programs seem to be most valuable," said Judy Park, associate state superintendent. "We are really excited about it and for Utah to get this is a huge deal."

Brandt said the fact that Utah already has a cooperative network of agencies and researchers working on the data system probably worked in its favor in securing the stimulus money.

"We know each other, we've worked on projects before. We a small- to medium-sized state and growing but we believe we are able to work through some of the bureaucratic barriers that occur in other states where things tend to be adversarial and compartmentalized," he said.

Brandt and Park emphasized that the tracking system doesn't allow researchers to identify individual students but to identify trends and groups of students that need intervention or special help.

"We'll be able to see their progress over time ... to help identify where the system needs improvement, where students haven't been prepared for college, what kind of programs K through 12 are best to prepare kids for college," Brandt said.

A total of $250 million was awarded this year in the grant competition. Other winners included Arkansas, $9.8 million; Colorado, $17.4 million; Florida, $10 million; Illinois, $11.9 million; Kansas, $9.1 million; Maine, $7.3 million; Massachusetts, $13 million; Michigan, $10.6 million; Minnesota, $12.4 million; Mississippi, $7.6 million; New York, $19.7 million; Ohio, $5.1 million; Oregon, $10.5 million; Pennsylvania, $14.3 million; South Carolina, $14.9 million; Texas, $18.2 million; Utah, $9.6 million; Virginia, $17.5 million; Washington, $17.3 million; and Wisconsin, $13.8 million.