Speakers at a forum about the use of longitudinal data in education stressed the importance of comprehensive data systems that follow students throughout their educational careers–from kindergarten to college–while also protecting students’ privacy.
Participants in the Data Quality Campaign’s March 10 forum in Washington, D.C., called “Leveraging the Power of Data to Improve Education,” said that if educators are to get the most out of using data to improve instruction, information must follow students from the time they enter the education system to when they ultimately leave.
“In order to achieve success, we need comprehensive data systems that begin in preschool and last through higher education,” said Reggie Robinson, president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents and chair of the State Higher Education Executive Officers. “We all need to be in this together.”
Robinson said most K-12 and higher-education data systems are set up independently from one another, and information flow between them is limited. But that needs to change, he said, adding that educators can ensure the success of their students much more easily if they have access to students’ entire educational history.
“We can find out what things suggest success in transferring students, not only from K-12 to higher ed, but also from a two-year school to a four-year school,” he said.
Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, agreed there needs to be more collaboration between K-12 and higher education on data systems development.
“We need to track students through college and use those data [to make informed decisions],” he said. “There is a lot of data collection that is merely being used to create data warehouses, without there being a coherent theory of action as to what we’re doing with the data.”
Dane Linn, director of the education division at the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices, said data systems can capture student achievement and identify achievement gaps.
“We have a number of youngsters who we need to bring up [to speed]. We can only do that by using data to close those equity gaps,” he said. “We need the research to inform policy. That’s critical to the success of all the investments.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan agreed data are important to informing policy makers.
“The focus on data, I would say, is the driving force [behind education] reform,” he said. “No longer can we guess. We need to challenge ourselves every day to see what the data mean.”
Many participants emphasized that without the collection and analysis of data, creating policy is based on guesswork.
“Accurate data are crucial to this business,” said Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell. “This is not just people sitting over statistics. … This is about children’s lives.”
The Data Quality Campaign is a national, collaborative effort to encourage and support state policy makers to improve the availability and use of high-quality data to improve student achievement. The forum coincided with the Data Quality Campaign’s launch of its web site redesign.
The campaign’s new site includes an interactive map showing how much progress each state has made toward the campaign’s “10 essential elements” of a statewide longitudinal data system.
The group’s most recent survey, conducted last year, shows that six states–Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, and Utah–have implemented all 10 elements for success. These include a statewide student identifier, coordination between K-12 and higher-education data systems, and the matching of teacher to student data.
On the other hand, Montana and New York have implemented only five of the group’s recommended 10 elements, Maryland has implemented three, and Idaho has implemented only two.