States are implementing robust data systems that could inform tough education decisions, but they need to do more with the data they collect, the Data Quality Campaign says.

Although states have made strong progress increasing their capacity to build and use longitudinal data systems, they aren’t yet helping educators, parents, and other stakeholders use the data to inform decisions to improve student achievement, according to the Data Quality Campaign’s seventh annual state analysis, Data for Action 2011.

More states than ever—36, up from zero in 2005 and 25 states in 2010—have implemented all of DQC’s 10 Essential Elements of Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems, and 49 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have implemented eight or more. This means that, without exception, every state in the country has robust longitudinal data extending beyond test scores that could inform today’s toughest education decisions.

Those 10 elements include:

1. A unique student identifier (52 states/territories)
2. Student-level enrollment, demographic, and program participation information (52)
3. The ability to match individual students’ test records from year to year to measure academic growth (52)
4. Information on untested students and the reasons why they were not tested (51)
5. A teacher identifier system with the ability to match teachers to specific students (44)
6. Student-level transcript data, including information on courses completed and grades earned (41)
7. Student-level college readiness test scores (50)
8. Student-level graduation and dropout data (52)
9. The ability to match student records between the P-12 and postsecondary systems (49)
10. A state data audit system assessing data quality, validity, and reliability (52)

“States have worked so diligently to build their capacity to collect and use quality education data, but we will see improved student achievement only when all stakeholders—from parents to policy makers—actually use these data to make informed decisions,” said Aimee Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign. “The need is urgent: State policy makers are right now in the process of allocating scarce resources based on what works to help students, and they cannot do that well without data.”

Despite the huge progress in building longitudinal data systems, no state has taken all of the 10 State Actions to Ensure Effective Data Use, which create a culture in which stakeholders use the rich data states now collect to improve education.

Those actions are:

1. Link state K–12 data systems with early learning, postsecondary education, workforce, social services, and other critical agencies.
2. Create stable, sustained support for robust state longitudinal data systems.
3. Develop governance structures to guide data collection, sharing, and use.
4. Build state data repositories (e.g., data warehouses) that integrate student, staff, financial and facility data.
5. Implement systems to provide all stakeholders with timely access to the information they need while protecting student privacy.
6. Create progress reports with individual student data that provide information educators, parents, and students can use to improve student performance.
7. Create reports that include longitudinal statistics on school systems and groups of students to guide school, district, and state-level improvement efforts.
8. Develop a purposeful research agenda and collaborate with universities, researchers, and intermediary groups to explore the data for useful information.
9. Implement policies and promote practices, including professional development and credentialing, to ensure that educators know how to access, analyze, and use data appropriately.
10. Promote strategies to raise awareness of available data and ensure that all key stakeholders, including state policy makers, know how to access, analyze, and use the information.

Few states can inform conversations about preparing citizens for jobs, because 41 states do not link K-12 and workforce data and 38 states do not link postsecondary and workforce data. Thirty-eight states have not established policies around sharing data across agencies, 36 states have not identified their critical questions to guide cross-agency data efforts, and 42 states do not require data literacy for both program approval and teacher and principal certification. Forty-six states do not share teacher performance data with teacher preparation programs.

However, some states are doing cutting-edge work, proving that these challenges can be addressed now:

  • Arkansas leads the nation with nine of 10 State Actions and providing cutting-edge, real-time data access and reporting.
  • Texas connects K-12 and workforce data to provide feedback information to districts regarding the employment of their graduates and non-graduates after they leave the district.
  • Maryland ensures transparency and accountability while developing a system to answer the state’s critical policy questions through a P-20 governance body.
  • North Carolina shares teacher performance data with the state’s teacher preparation programs and uses its program approval authority to require data literacy training in pre-service programs.

Guidera said this year’s report imparts three key takeaways:

  • States are better positioned to inform policy discussions around early childhood education readiness and college readiness than they are for career preparation. Because 36 states are able to connect early learning, K-12, and postsecondary education systems, those connections allow for continued alignment and feedback. But just 11 states have made the connection between the K-12 and workforce systems.
  • States have built data systems and are taking efforts to establish governance bodies across involved sectors. But those governance bodies have not all taken the next step to examine how to truly maximize the power and potential that data offer.
  • States are increasingly providing appropriate access to data, but the DQC emphasized that more needs to be done to expand access to data.

Guidera said the DQC is working to ensure that educators and stakeholders are able to access and use data as effectively as possible. Parents and students, too, should have access to unique student data to better help parents and students make important education decisions.

Forty states now give principals individual student information, and 22 states give this same information to teachers. But just eight states give individual student information to parents, and only five give that information to the students themselves.

“How do we build stakeholder capacity to effectively use this data?” Guidera asked. “There’s an incredible opportunity for states to use their policy-making authority to use data and improve teachers’ capacity for using data.” This includes making sure that schools of education ensure teachers have the competency to access and use such data, she added.