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For the week of September 27 through October 3, 2000

Idaho schools lead in
computer technology,
state says

Market researcher calls numbers ‘very, very general’

"We would never use [the information] to say Idaho is a really technologically advanced state. It may or may not be, but we wouldn’t use it that way."

Joel Kinzie, spokesman for QED

Express Staff Writer

Citing studies from two national education marketing research firms, the state Department of Education claims Idaho leads the country in providing computer technology to students.

Experts, however, doubt the conclusion. They suggest Idaho education officials confused information designed for marketing with a precise measure of technology education.

Allison Westfall, media relations officer for the department, states in a Sept. 20 press release that a Shelton, Conn.-based company, Market Data Retrieval (MDR), "ranks Idaho in the top 10 states" for school technology. She asserts that another company, Denver-based Quality Education Data (QED), ranks Idaho "the top state in its education technology measures."

Both QED and MDR provide mailing lists and market research information to vendors of educational materials, to the state and federal governments and to the media.

Despite Westfall’s good news, however, QED fails to share her enthusiasm. The company says information it provides on school technology does not come from thorough research and can’t be used to compare one state to another.

"We would never use [the information] to say Idaho is a really technologically advanced state," Joel Kinzie, a spokesman for QED, said in a telephone interview from his Denver, Colo., office Monday. "It may or may not be, but we wouldn’t use it that way."

QED’s information was contained in a 60-page marketing brochure mailed to education agencies.

Idaho has spent heavily in recent years equipping schools with computers. Each year since 1994, according to the education agency’s press release, the state legislature has invested $10.4 million in school technology. Additional money has come from a $28 million J. A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation investment, the release states.

The education department says the state has worked hard to help schools prepare students for an expanding high-tech job market in Idaho. The information from QED and MDR shows the state is succeeding, according to Westfall.

"We [are] seeing from these state and national reports that Idaho’s investment has been efficiently and effectively used," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Marilyn Howard in Westfall’s press release.

Kinzie said he’s concerned the education department is misinterpreting his company’s research information.

He said the information is meant to give his company’s customers a "general idea" of where a state stands, not to give a definitive ranking of states.

While Westfall claims that QED "ranks" Idaho as the top state, the company in fact gives Idaho and all other states a less-hierarchical education technology "status" of either "high," "medium" or "low."

QED determines a state’s status based on the number of instructional computers available and the number of students per computer. That information, Kinzie said, QED gets from written and verbal surveys his company takes of the nation’s schools.

To determine a state’s status, QED compiles survey information into a numerical "technology measure."

Idaho does survey well by QED standards. A table in a QED product catalog gives only three states a ranking of "high": Idaho, South Dakota and Wyoming.

To rank Idaho first in the nation, Westfall apparently used QED’s technology measure for the state, which at 4.9 is higher than all the others: Wyoming comes in at 4.7, South Dakota at 4.1. Some of the states with the lowest "technology measures" are Connecticut at 1.9 and California at 2.0.

Referring to his colleagues at QED, Kinzie said, "None of us would ever use that number in the way Ms. Westfall used it in her press release. And we’re a little concerned about that…. It’s a very, very general number, and a little inexact."

Kinzie said some states provide more survey information than others to QED, and that can affect the status schools get. When a state’s schools fail to respond to surveys, the state’s status can fall, even though its schools might have numerous new computers. Idaho and Wyoming, he said, have provided "richer data" in recent years than other states.

Even though the status QED assigns schools is "a little inexact," Kinzie said, the information is useful to his company’s customers when combined with other "lifestyle" data, such as measures of a state’s affluence. Used together, he said, that information can help educational software companies, for example, decide where to conduct mass mailing advertisement campaigns.

The other company Westfall cited, MDR, uses a method similar to QED’s to rank "technology sophistication" in states’ schools. Called the Tech Sophistication Index (TSI), the method uses a number of technology measures to place schools within five categories from high to low.

In a report published on its Web site, MDR, unlike QED, clearly ranks states. The report places Idaho among the top 10 states, along with Alaska, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Kansas and Iowa.

Schools that are small, rural and have a low percentage of minority students are likely to rank high in technology sophistication, according to the report.


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