Tracking Spending and Student Achievement

Published February 1, 2002

While the most recent reports from the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicate student achievement has stagnated in reading, mathematics, and science for at least the past decade, other reports from the National Center for Education Statistics indicate spending on K-12 education has steadily increased during this period, and is likely to exceed $400 billion this year.

As educators call for more resources and legislators for improved student achievement, two business firms are offering help in directing improvement efforts to where they are most likely to be effective.

Since the accountability provisions of President George W. Bush’s just-approved education bill require districts to benchmark and report improvements in student achievement, the analytical services offered by these two firms are likely to prove helpful to state and local school officials.

Standard & Poor’s

Last May, Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services issued individual assessments for each of Michigan’s 554 school districts, combining financial and student achievement data and making comparisons versus state averages.

After further analysis of the data, S&P issued a higher level report in December, drawing new conclusions about indicators of student performance and the varying effect funding can have on improving results.

The new report, called “Statewide Insights,” also highlights districts and schools that are “beating the odds” by generating above-average student results while facing challenging circumstances.

S&P’s analysis of the district-level data, available for public access at, concludes that increased spending alone is unlikely to enable all students to achieve state standards, regardless of how strong or weak a district’s return on resources may be. The report raises the question of whether fundamental or structural changes may be needed to maximize the state’s return on incremental spending.

For example, the analysis finds achievement gaps among disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students both within and among school systems. Some districts with relatively high performance levels show relatively low performance for economically disadvantaged students. On the other hand, some districts with above-average numbers of disadvantaged students post above-average levels of student achievement.

“This report is an important new resource, providing teachers, school administrators, parents, and students with crucial information on how to improve student achievement,” said Michigan Governor John Engler.

Last November,, Inc., a leading provider of e-learning solutions for K-12 schools and districts, launched an Internet-based Return on Investment Analysis application that allows school administrators to track education expenditures aligned to standards-based student achievement.

The ROI tool enables educators to take school district financial data and correlate resource allocations to measured gains in student learning. Educators are able to measure student achievement, report and analyze the cost of education, and track program expenditures for individual districts, schools, classrooms, and students.

“We are pleased to be able to offer a one-of-a-kind solution that supports informed, data-driven decision making by combining real-time student assessment and financial analysis resources teachers and school administrators can access from anywhere, at anytime,” said Dr. Thomas Jandris, president of and a former director of state services for the Education Commission of the States. “Educators are now able to easily identify which programs are successful in positively impacting student learning and progress, and at what cost. This tool helps administrators to more effectively evaluate spending.”

The ROI tool is made up of two applications, In$ite® and Virtual EDucation.

In$ite® is a financial analysis and reporting tool that organizes financial information from the existing accounting system. Virtual EDucation is an Internet-based system for managing standards-based student assessments. It is used by school districts nationwide, representing close to one million students and 2,500 school districts.

Virtual EDucation allows educators to report student performance information at the student, teacher, classroom, school, district, or state level. Assessment data on student progress are aligned to curriculum standards, thereby providing grade-level expectation measurements.