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National Report Gives Georgia Higher Education High Marks for Accountability

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Atlanta — August 5, 2009

Georgia is one of only 10 states in the U.S. commended in a new education report for measuring how well its college students perform, using this tracking data to drive policy decisions and providing the information gathered in a useful format to students, their parents, the news media and others. Education Sector, a Washington-based think tank promoting education reform, analyzed educational accountability systems across the nation at the request of a number of respected education foundations and found varied results in its report, “Ready to Assemble: Grading State Higher Education Accountability Systems.”

Education Sector’s survey, released in June, determined that 38 states have little or no system for measuring learning outcomes, and 36 states have yet to develop a method for linking college funding to performance. Among the reputable major players in the education arena funding the survey were the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Lumina Foundation for Education and KnowledgeWorks Foundation.

“To be clear, we did not evaluate state results in terms of their various higher-education outcomes, but rather the breadth, accuracy and strength of their systems designed to hold institutions accountable for results,” said Kevin Carey, policy director for Education Sector.

“Measuring educational outcomes and reporting the results is critical to improving educational attainment rates,” said Dr. Susan Herbst, the USG’s chief academic officer and executive vice chancellor. “The public cannot call for improvements if it does not clearly and easily know that improvements are needed.”

She added that “Georgia’s good standing in this report reflects all the efforts of the University System of Georgia (USG) and its partners in education, such as the Georgia Department of Education and the Office of Student Achievement (OSA). It really shows the effects of our work with the Alliance of Education Agency Heads (AEAH). We still have work to do, of course, but we’re pleased with our progress to date.”

“The Alliance’s number-one goal is to increase the high-school graduation rate, decrease the high-school dropout rate and increase postsecondary enrollment and success,” said AEAH Director Amy Mast. “Tracking college and career readiness is one of our primary strategies, and the Education Sector report reflects how important it is to report data clearly and ensure it is accessible to students, teachers, parents, board members, policymakers and the public. The strength of our partnership between all seven of the state’s education agencies, the Governor’s Office and business partners is to prioritize the importance of measuring and reporting education data to show where we are improving and where we need to continue focusing our efforts in Georgia.”

Education Sector measured states in 21 categories of accountability, analyzing any systems that might be in place to assess areas like affordability, degree production, research and scholarship. States that promote or require the use of assessment tools, and take steps to publicize the information, were given the highest marks. Those that had few tools for assessment and did little to spread information were graded lower on the three-grade scale. The highest grade, “Best Practice,” was given to 10 states with well-developed reporting mechanisms, including Georgia. The second ranking, “In Progress,” was given to 27 states that have less complete efforts underway. The lowest score, “Needs Improvement,” went to 13 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, where little is being done in the way of accountability, according to Education Sector.

In addition to giving Georgia an overall “Best Practice” ranking and another for gathering information overall, the report gives both the USG and Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Office of Student Achievement (OSA) high marks for measuring student progression and educational attainment. Georgia was one of only six states to earn the “Best Practice” designation in this category.

The report also commended the USG for measuring and making accessible to the public in a user-friendly way the number of degrees awarded by institution, academic discipline, race/ethnicity and gender, as well as the economic impact of the University System on the state.

In addition, the USG won notice in the report for having developed transparency measures, such as the information portal “USG by the Numbers,” that allow students and others to examine and evaluate these data. USG by the Numbers, along with the USG’s Information Digest, enrollment and degrees-conferred reports and other accountability documents, can be accessed at www.usg.edu/policies/.

“Only three states — Texas, Minnesota and Georgia — earned our ‘best practice’ label for developing particularly user-friendly Web sites to transmit accountability information,” Education Sector’s Kevin Carey said. “Minnesota and Georgia have each constructed innovative ways to display information. Georgia’s looks like a scoreboard for a major sport and lets users compare results to state, regional and national averages.”

Georgia’s scorecard in the report contains four “Best Practice” and 12 “In Progress” rankings.

The complete report, “Ready to Assemble: Grading State Higher Education Accountability Systems,” can be downloaded at http://www.educationsector.org/research/research_show.htm?doc_id=934393.

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