The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Using Student Data to Improve Instruction: Report on State Initiatives to Assist Schools and Districts

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
March 15, 2013

One of our major strategies to improve the quality of classroom instruction is to help educators make better use of student-level data. Appropriate software tools can help teachers, principals, and district administrators to assess student performance, identify each student's individual needs, and tailor curriculum materials to meet those needs.

We have two major initiatives currently underway to explore these opportunities. The first is "Edwin", the nickname we've given to Massachusetts' new comprehensive teaching and learning platform. The vision behind Edwin is to support educators and foster teaching and learning at every level - classroom, school, district, and state - by providing secure, on-demand access to relevant student data, instructional resources, curriculum planning tools, model curriculum units, and a variety of assessments including curriculum-embedded performance assessments. Race to the Top and other federal grants are the main funding sources for Edwin development.

Edwin consists of two main components, Edwin Analytics and Edwin Teaching and Learning. Edwin Analytics was released to all school districts this past January and includes access to the Department's Early Warning Indicator System, the Education Data Warehouse, and Postsecondary Enrollment/Outcome reports. Edwin Teaching and Learning is being developed in cooperation with the Ohio Department of Education, through a contract with Thinkgate Inc. Edwin Teaching and Learning will be available by the end of the 2013-14 school year to over 150 participating Race to the Top districts in Massachusetts.

Our second major initiative is the Shared Learning Initiative, in which we are partnering with eight other states to explore the feasibility of a multi-state technology platform. This initiative is tackling the problem of the significant costs that school districts typically face in trying to integrate their student data with commercially available software tools. The goal of this project is to provide a common data infrastructure for school districts to store data that can connect seamlessly to analytic and curriculum products from a wide range of vendors. Seed funding for the project is coming from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation. A new non-profit organization, InBloom, has been created to manage the development and testing of the open source software on which this project is based. Here in Massachusetts, our project team includes staff from the Department, from the Executive Office of Education's information technology staff, and from the Everett Public Schools.

You recently received correspondence from the ACLU of Massachusetts and several other organizations, expressing their concerns over the security and privacy of student data that might ultimately be used as part of this initiative. Attached to this memorandum is a copy of the ACLU letter, my response to them, and a copy of the memorandum of understanding which governs our participation in the pilot project. As I note in my response, the memorandum makes clear that the participating school districts retain full control over how their confidential student data is to be used and shared, and it obligates all parties to comply fully with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and other applicable data privacy and security laws.

The Shared Learning Initiative is still in the research and development stage. We will continue to evaluate the project both for its ability to ensure the confidentiality of student data and for its ability to deliver worthwhile services to our educators.

Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson; Sharon Wright, the Executive Office's chief information officer; and Rob Curtin, the Department's manager of education data services, will join us at the March 26 meeting to discuss both Edwin and the Shared Learning Initiative in greater detail.