MU conference focuses on efforts to track student progress

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 4:56 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 10, 2009
MU Professor Michael Podgursky, speaks with a participant of the P-20 Conference in Columbia on Tuesday. Podgursky and other Missouri educators gathered to discuss the newest challenges in education like pay increases based on teacher performance.

COLUMBIA — About 100 legislators, researchers and educators met at MU this week to discuss data tracking of students from pre-kindergarten through college to better academic performance.

The Missouri P-20 Center for Education Policy Research hosted the conference Monday and Tuesday at the Reynolds Alumni Center. The conference was the first of its kind for the state.

The research on student growth that the program conducts is likely to affect the upcoming revision of the No Child Left Behind Act.

"Growing out of that system is a nucleus of how this will make it better not only for us but for the kids," said Bert Schulte, the interim director of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The conference was broken into four sections: preschool education; elementary and secondary education; higher education; and the use of Missouri data to improve educational outcomes.

David Valentine,  MU associate director for public service at the Truman School of Public Affairs, said that by tracking public schools, transitions from one institution to the next will be simplified for both students and educators. Valentine said he hopes to use the research from other states' findings to help stimulate more interest in the program's development.

MU economics professor Michael Podgurksy said emerging research collected through the program could establish Missouri as a national leader in longitudinal data, meaning data taken over a period of time.

Three major areas of national activity in educational policy that affect research are the choice in school, test-based accountability systems and performance incentives. Through these areas of concern, the program hopes to utilize the longitudinal data to not only track students but also teachers' performance.

State Rep. Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff, said it’s important for researchers and politicians to cooperate so the program can attain a “seamless transition of information.”

Although the P-20 program aims to track students from preschool to age 20, it often neglects higher education when it comes to research and analysis, said Robert Stein, Missouri Department of Higher Education commissioner.

“We have a focus of K-12, and we’re going to leave higher education in the dust,” Stein said.

Stein and Kingery stressed how important it is for researchers and policy makers to work together so the program can reach its potential.

“If we invest in the future, in the kids from birth through higher education, we’re going to have a much more informed, philosophical society,” Kingery said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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