HJR 91: Joint Subcommittee to Study the Use of Independent Educational Performance Assessment Services

September 30, 2002

Pursuant to HJR 91 of 2002, the joint subcommittee was established as a six-member legislative body. HJR 91 describes Virginia's reform efforts as implemented through the Standards of Learning and the Standards of Accreditation, school report cards, and other activities and notes that Virginia's focus has been on establishing student learning and teaching standards. The enabling resolution acknowledges the power of data analyses provided by independent educational performance assessment services, such as Standard and Poor's School Evaluation Services (SES). Such services can provide the tools needed for effective decision-making, such as cost-benefit evaluations, comparative analyses, longitudinal results, and identification of best practices. The resolution directs the joint subcommittee to examine:

  • Standard and Poor's School Evaluation Services in other states;
  • Virginia's ongoing school accountability efforts;
  • The feasibility and appropriateness of implementing an independent school evaluation service within Virginia; and
  • Such other issues as the subcommittee may deem necessary.

School Evaluation Services

After reviewing its directives, the joint subcommittee received a presentation from representatives of Standard and Poor's School Evaluation Services. Standard and Poor's SES were introduced approximately three years ago following five years of research and development.

Public perceptions of bias in data analysis, public questioning of data validity as well as the appropriateness of conflicting responsibilities within state departments, and the economies of scale accomplished by the development of comprehensive data systems are among the rationales for independent evaluation services. Standard and Poor's can provide objective evaluation of comprehensive academic data that includes trend analysis, demographics, and test data disaggregated by subject areas, grade, and student characteristics. This approach combines data from various sources into a single analysis framework and databank. Single parent households, adult educational achievement, limited English proficiency, free and reduced-price lunch, employment, household income, and race/ ethnicity information are included in the demographic data.

Standard and Poor's SES conducts performance evaluation using comparable and contextual academic, financial and demographic data to provide consistent and clear information for instructional and resource decisions and for ensuring accountability. Disaggregation of data and the established goals can be used to compare previous years' performance in each school or school division, each school division's performance in relation to its peers, and each school or school division's performance in relation to all other schools or school divisions in the state. Standard and Poor's Performance Cost Index can provide useful mechanisms for looking at cost benefit/return on resources. For example, these analyses have resulted in conclusions tying the funding to how money is being spent and identification of improvement strategies to replication of such practices.

Standard and Poor's SES were initiated in 2001 through contracts with Michigan and Pennsylvania. The SES concept includes such powerful tools as needs assessments, goal setting, strategic planning, budgeting and resource allocation, contract negotiations, voter education, and constituent communication. The premise of this data analysis is that consistent and continuous collection of significant information will motivate improvement. In other words, that objective and credible data analysis will motivate change.

Standard and Poor's SES delivers its services via three platforms: an annual written report relating to the strengths and concerns of each school district and each charter school in Michigan and Pennsylvania; an interactive website providing access to these reports and school and school district data for the public; and a comprehensive annual report on the progress of the contracting states. Administrators and parents are thus able to examine "best practices," eliminate misinformation, and use validated data to make informed decisions. Using the data comparisons, unnecessarily high costs can be identified and savings can be realized to improve teacher salaries or other important budget items. Interested parties may access the current data on Michigan, Pennsylvania and some schools in other states at the SES website: www.ses.standardandpoors.com.

Subcommittee Discussion

Following the SES presentation, the joint subcommittee members engaged in discussion and asked many questions relating to sole-source contracting, availability of Virginia data, customization of analysis, service costs, specific kinds of school data, teacher licensure data, and the new data requirements of the federal law in No Child Left Behind. The joint subcommittee noted that much data is already available in Virginia; however, cost benefit/resource allocation analysis is infrequently performed.

Next Meeting

The second meeting of the joint subcommittee has been scheduled for October 31, 2002, at 2:00 p.m. in House Room C. During this meeting, the joint subcommittee will focus on obtaining (i) follow-up comments from Michigan, Pennsylvania, and other school systems on the effectiveness of the Standard and Poor's SES (to be arranged through teleconference during the meeting); (ii) information on the Virginia Department of Education's collection and use of data; and (iii) descriptions of local school division use of comparative data for decision-making and planning.


The Hon. Kathy J. Byron

For information, contact:

Norma E. Szakal
Division of Legislative Services


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