North Dakota is developing a statewide data project to track student progress in school and provide information about whether young people are learning skills that the job market demands, officials said Tuesday.
The federal government has pushed states to implement their own "longitudinal data systems" to provide information about each student's progress from kindergarten until they finish high school. The systems also could be used to track students' college work.
North Dakota has already met many of the initiative's goals, according to the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit group that monitors how information is used to track student achievement. One of the campaign's principal financial backers is a foundation started by billionaire Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda.
Steve Snow, the management systems information director for North Dakota's Department of Public Instruction, and Lisa Feldner, director of the state Information Technology Department, said Tuesday that schools will use the information to spot instances where student achievement may be lagging, or where instruction could be improved.
"They can take a look and see how many students are progressing into higher education ... and say, 'Did we prepare them appropriately?'" Feldner said. "They can look at dropout rates and ask, 'Why are students dropping out?' They can look at remedial rates and ask, 'Why did (students) require remediation?'"
North Dakota schools already gather information on their students' classwork. The state project will provide a way to compare data from individual schools while accounting for the "subtleties" in how different schools teach subjects, Snow said.
"It will still allow the schools enough freedom to teach how they need to teach, while getting it close enough to a common language that we can translate from school to school," he said.
The Department of Public Instruction obtained a $6.9 million federal grant to finish implementing the program, Feldner told a legislative committee that is monitoring the project. Feldner and Snow told The Associated Press they hoped the project would be mostly completed in three years.
Some state agencies, including Job Service North Dakota and the Department of Commerce, want to participate in the program to see how student academic trends match up with the training that employers want, officials say.
"We know we have a work force shortage in North Dakota," Feldner said. "How do we find out where students would like to go, what are their key interests, and how can we point them in the direction of jobs that are available in the work force?"