According to a new report, every state is on track to have a longitudinal data system that follows the progress of individual students from preschool through college by 2011, thanks in part to funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (AARA). However, many states still lack key elements in their data systems that could inform critical policy discussions.

The report, titled "10 State Actions to Ensure Effective Use of Data," was released by the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) during the Council of Chief State School Officer’s annual policy forum.

According to this fourth annual report, which surveys the progress states are making toward implementing statewide longitudinal data systems, states have capitalized on the momentum of the federal stimulus package. Not only has every governor and chief state school officer committed to building a longitudinal data system by 2011 as a condition of receiving State Fiscal Stabilization funds, but the requirements for qualifying for "Race to the Top" funding and State Longitudinal Data Grants also are promoting the effective use of data, the DQC says. (See "ED to fund unified student data systems.")

The DCQ believes longitudinal data is important to education, because this type of data collection makes it possible to follow individual students’ academic growth, determine the value specific programs add to this growth, and identify consistently high-performing classrooms, schools, and systems.

"Education reform is not about sweeping mandates or grand gestures. It’s about systematically examining, learning, and building on what we’re doing right and fixing what hasn’t worked for our children. The Data Quality Campaign has challenged states to expose the good, the bad, and the ugly about our schools and focus the national conversation on how data can lay the groundwork for reform," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

To measure how well states are performing in building longitudinal data systems, the DQC has identified the following "10 Essential Elements" of a system and annually reports states’ progress in implementing each element. The results include the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, collectively referred to as "states" in the progress report.

The group’s 10 essential elements are:

1. A unique student identifier that connects student data across key databases and across multiple years. (Fifty states now have this, up from 36 in 2005.)

2. Student-level enrollment, demographic, and program participation information (51 states, up from 38 in 2005).

3. The ability to match individual students’ test records from year to year to measure academic growth (50 states, up from 32 in 2005).

4. Information on untested students and the reasons they were not tested (46 states, up from 25 in 2005).

5. A teacher identifier system with the ability to match teachers to students (24 states, up from 13 in 2005).

6. Student-level transcript data, including information on courses completed and grades earned (23 states, up from seven in 2005).

7. Student-level college readiness tests scores (37 states, up from seven in 2005).

8. Student-level graduation and dropout data (51 states, up from 34 in 2005).

9. The ability to match student records between K-12 and postsecondary systems (31 states, up from 12 in 2005).

10. A state data audit system assessing quality, validity, and reliability (49 states, up from 19 in 2005).
 
Based on these measures, this year’s survey found that 11 states–Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming–now have all ten elements. (No state had all 10 elements in 2005, and just six states had all 10 in 2008.) In addition, 31 states have eight or more of the elements, and only two states–Idaho and the District of Columbia–have fewer than five elements.

All but one state, Idaho, collect student-level enrollment, demographic, and program participation data or collect student-level graduation and dropout data.
 
The 2009 survey also found that more states are collecting the data needed to answer key questions, such as: "Which schools produce the strongest academic growth for their students?" (44 states, up from 21 in 2005); "What high school performance indicators … are the best predictors of students’ success in college or the workplace?" (13 states, up from two in 2005); and "What percentage of high school graduates requires remediation in college?" (30 states, up from eight in 2005).
 
Despite these improvements, many states still lack critical elements for addressing college and career readiness and the impact that teachers have on student achievement, the DQC says.

For example, only 23 states collect transcript information on courses taken, completed, and grades earned, and only 37 states collect college readiness test scores. Also, since last year, just three additional states reported that they have a teacher identifier system with the ability to match teachers to students; 24 states now can make this link.

To make themselves eligible for Race to the Top funding, many states are addressing obstacles–including legal barriers–to linking teacher and student information together. As a result, it’s likely that many more states will report this ability next year, the organization projects. 
 
"Thanks to broad support, Maine recently passed legislation making it easier to follow individual progress from preschool through postsecondary education and into the workforce. Stimulus funds provide further incentive to address the barriers around linking data across agencies and systems to ensure that this rich information isn’t just collected, but able to be accessed and used to improve decision making and outcomes," said Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron, president of CCSSO’s Board of Directors.
 
Even with strong federal support, the DQC says, the challenge remains to build understanding and use of longitudinal data among all education stakeholders, so there is continual demand for these information systems well beyond the expiration of the federal stimulus dollars.
 
Creating state longitudinal data systems is an important first step, says the DQC, but states also must have policies and practices in place so that educators and stakeholders can access, understand, and be able to use the information effectively to improve instruction.

"The goal of implementing a comprehensive statewide data system in all 50 states is within reach," said Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. "Mississippi was proud to report all 10 Essential Elements in 2009, but we realize that the hard work is just beginning. State policy makers and educators must come together to develop and implement a plan to make it feasible for stakeholders at all levels [of education] to use data daily in their decision making. It’s time to move from building systems to using data for continuous improvement."
 
In January, the DQC will release its first survey results measuring the progress of states toward implementing its "10 State Actions to Ensure Effective Use of Data."

The January report will provide more details on how states are changing their policies and practices to promote linkages across systems, ensure appropriate access to new data and analysis, and strengthen stakeholder capacity to use the information. 

Links:

"DQC 10 State Actions to Ensure Effective Use of Data"

Council of Chief State School Officers

ARRA fact sheet