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NCES Commissioner To Address NAEP, State Data Systems

Sean P. "Jack" Buckley, the new commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, is determined to keep state longitudinal data systems evolving amid state budget and staff constraints, he told participants at the American Educational Research Association convention in New Orleans.

The Education Department provided $500 million in grants for states to build up their data systems under the fiscal stimulus law, but, Mr. Buckley said, "While we were shoving all that money out the door, we did not set common education data standards for what we wanted to see. There's been a lot of money spent on building these data warehouses and not a lot of money spent on helping people to do anything useful with them."

In the past year, NCES and state data officials developed common data standards to put the various state systems on a common footing. This year, Mr. Buckley said NCES would provide more training and guidance for states and districts on how to work with researchers. "States don't have the money to do what they want to do, much less answer the phone from researchers who want them to anonymize their data so they can use it," he said. "We want to help."

NCES is busier than usual this year, he said, with a packed schedule of 15 test reports due from the National Assessment of Educational Progress—including a high school transcript study due out tomorrow. Mr. Buckley said he also is putting together a panel with the National Academies to review and finalize NAEP's achievement levels. When the Nation's Report Card first rolled out, the benchmarks for each proficiency level were set on a trial basis, with the understanding that they would be tested out and finalized, but "the 'trial' status of the achievement levels is now probably about 20 years old," he said. "It's a little embarrassing that we are still saying that."

NCES will also try to benchmark NAEP internationally this year. Because states are also scheduled to take the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, this year, Mr. Buckley said he plans to have a sample of students take a selection of items from both tests to allow NCES to link the two and provide better feedback to states on how the NAEP results may predict their students' international competitiveness—something state education and business leaders have been requesting.

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