CHEYENNE – With the silly season of data release in its rearview mirror, the Wyoming Department of Education's (WDE) Information Management Unit is back to work on the next round of legislatively mandated reports.
In the past month or so, the Information Management Unit has released statistics on the state's enrollment, graduation rates and the 16:1 student-to-teacher ratios of elementary schools across the state. Next up on the to-do list is staffing data for schools and districts in the Cowboy State.
"We facilitate the legislative mandates to collect and analyze data," said Unit Leader Drew Dilly. "Of course, that's a huge oversimplification of what we do. Data, by-and-large, comes from districts, we collect it, we make sure it makes sense, and create reports."
"What we do enables the administration and evolution of the education system by providing data and information about our public education system to Wyoming’s stakeholders," said WDE Senior Statistician Vince Meyer. "You can't change anything unless you measure it. Publishing of complete and accurate information about Wyoming K-12 school operations and outcomes is crucial in providing Wyoming’s citizens an understanding of what's going on in their communities."
WDE Information Management staffers (from left: Donal Mattimoe, Vince Meyer, Susan Williams and Leslie Zimmerschied look over data, Wednesday at the Wyoming Department of Education Office in Cheyenne.
Meyer said he has been with the WDE for roughly nine years and believes the reports and data the unit compiles fits into three categories.
"There's instructional, operational and performance purposes (for the reports)," Meyer said. "An example of instructional is the Assessment Resource Tool (ART). We take information gathered from various sources and compile it for districts in a way that can help them better their own efforts.”
"Operational is funding," Meyer continued. "We support our Finance Unit by providing them with components of the funding model, e.g. At-Risk student data aligned with guidance provided in rules and regulations. The Performance bucket includes testing data and accountability information. These are metrics that are posted to allow legislators, parents and other stakeholders to see how our schools are performing."
The year in Information Management
"If you think about the goal being something like improving education in Wyoming, it is a big goal," said WDE Data Governance Analyst Leslie Zimmerschied. "We provide the data that goes towards that goal. The more you use data, the more data you need. It is like a pad of sticky notes, once you accomplish one goal, you rip it off and you need more information."
You could say the Information Management Unit's year starts in the summer as the group assigns WISER identification numbers to newly enrolled students in Wyoming. Enrollment collections start in the fall and arrive in a final format in October. Enrollment and other student-level data arrive at the WDE in the WDE684 data collection. Among the demographics included in that collection includes names, demographics, courses students are taking as well as some program participation such as English Language Learner or Title I status.
The WDE684 is the supplier of data for enrollment by state, district and school, which is released in the spring. Statewide English Language Learner and Special Education student counts also come out of the WDE684.
While they are working through the WDE684, the Information Management Unit collects staff data including information through the WDE602 collection. This collection includes information on all Wyoming staffers, their experience level and course connections. The collection is legislatively mandated to make sure staffers are qualified to teach the courses they lead.
Student and staff data goes through a scrubbing process and is returned to school districts, which have until around December to confirm the data is correct, or request a review. Using this collection, staff summaries by job function and average salaries by school are produced.
Around November, some of the information collected by the WDE in the WDE684 goes to the state's testing vendor to be placed on individual booklets for the Proficiency Assessment for Wyoming Students (PAWS).
Next on the calendar comes graduation rates and the 16:1 calculations, which are released in the spring, followed by WDE652 data, which helps to calculate accurate full-time employees used in the state funding model for districts.
"When I started here four years ago, there were times when periodically it was slow, but that doesn't happen anymore," said Data Collection and Reporting Supervisor, Susan Williams.
In addition to data the Information Management Unit receives from the school districts, it also receives information from test vendors and transcripts from universities to compose reports on subjects such as the Hathaway Scholarship. Through each of the legislative mandated reports the WDE is required to produce, Williams said making life easy on the districts providing the data is paramount as they develop processes for data reporting.
"When we get a new element or list of data to collect, we look at what's the easiest way to do that," Williams said. "We ask, how are we going to have the least amount of burden on our customers?"
How did they get here?
It's a game everyone played as a child—what do you want to do when you grow up? Policeman, fireman and cowboy tend to be favorites, but rarely does a five year old profess interest in being a data governance analyst.
Dilly said his group is made up of several different disciplines such as software programmers, such as John Paul, Ken Hert and Keith Geringer. Their job is to develop programs to help districts more easily report their numbers, while aiding the process of making reports easier to understand and data easier to search.
Williams said she comes from a liberal arts background, but enjoys the customer service aspect of her job—Data Collection and Reporting Supervisor.
"I think we help districts to make better decisions on instruction and if they're going to request a new building, what kind of staff will they need next year in the building."
Meyer is in his ninth year as a statistician at the WDE coming in with a background in statistics and business. Zimmerschied is in her fourth year at the WDE after a career that included both data analyst work as well as time with Denver-based media company, ThoughtEquity. Veteran, Brian Wuerth who collects data for the WDE, joins Meyer and Zimmerschied in their office.
Shannon Cranmore addressees federal reporting through the EDFacts system, which submits data collected by the WDE to the US Department of Education. Dilly said Cranmore submits more than 260 different reports through EDFacts to the US Department of Education each year.
While the Information Management Unit currently has 16 staffers doing everything from web design to data reporting, it also has seven vacant positions. Dilly said RTI—an education and training research firm—was recently at the WDE to consult and discuss possible realignments of the agency's Information Management Unit based on legislative intent and new requirements.
"Given the recent staffing shortfalls, the agency is taking this opportunity to re-evaluate the positions we have to make sure we are well-positioned to meet the challenges for the future."