States receiving grants will participate in a yearly two-day conference to report on their progress and share best practices with other state grantees. IES also will hold monthly webinars and will maintain a web site to address areas of particular interest for grant recipients.

Funds can be used to train principals, teachers, guidance counselors, and other school staff to use data to identify the areas where students need help. Using data could help teachers alter their classroom instruction to meet students’ needs and could help administrators focus their staff professional development on weaker areas.

District leaders might track the number and percentage of students, by school, who graduate high school and complete at least one year’s worth of college credit, and then use that information to boost the number of high school students who go on to college.

Data systems also would help a school district more effectively allocate resources, ED says. Student, financial, and personnel data systems can be linked, and results can be used to formulate reports showing the educational and cost effectiveness of district programs and strategies.

Using data that show academic performance and growth, school leaders can compare these figures to statewide averages and track high school graduation rates.

Duncan has said he intends to use information from statewide performance-tracking data systems to make the case for states to adopt common standards.

“The fact is, having 50 different state standards just doesn’t work,” Duncan said in June.  “Which is why we have called for states to adopt higher standards that truly prepare young people for college or work.”

States and school districts also will compete later this year for a piece of the $5 billion “Race to the Top” fund, which will reward those that adopt innovations the Obama administration supports–including the use of data to improve instruction. Applications will be available in July, and money should be awarded starting early next year.

Whether officials tie student data to teacher evaluation will be a consideration, Duncan said.

“Believe it or not, several states, including New York, Wisconsin, and California, have laws that create a firewall between student and teacher data,” he said. “Think about that–laws that prohibit us from connecting children to the adults who teach them.”