ED to fund unified student data systems

Backed by a strong and unprecedented federal investment in education, the Obama administration has identified multiple objectives intended to help revamp the nation’s education system–and a persistent use of student data to improve instruction is one of those objectives.

President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have emphasized the need for all states to implement longitudinal data systems to track the progress of students from kindergarten through college and the workforce. Those data systems also would link students to their respective teachers and help school leaders identify strengths and weaknesses within their districts.

A portion of the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) stimulus funding is intended to help states create comprehensive, longitudinal data systems to track the academic progress of individual students from kindergarten through college and the workforce.

Creating such systems will help states generate accurate data and use those data to support improvement in all aspects of education, according to the administration’s Recovery.gov web site. Data also may be used to improve student achievement and close achievement gaps.

A total of $250 million is intended for statewide longitudinal data systems and will be distributed by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in the form of competitive grants to states, which will be awarded in November.

Governors must agree to a condition that their state build a high-quality educational longitudinal data system if they apply for funds from the $53.6 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. Those funds are being distributed in two rounds–the first began in April, and the other is expected to begin later this summer.

Statewide data systems will provide better information to educators, education leaders, and the public, Duncan says, and they also would address individual students’ needs and help improve teacher performance.

As part of the push to implement comprehensive data systems, states must report on their progress toward implementing all 12 elements described in the America COMPETES Act–including tracking the progress of individual students, matching students to teachers, and tracking whether teachers receive timely data on student performance.

Once the grants to create longitudinal data systems have been awarded, IES will have monthly conversations with each state grantee to make sure its grant project is meeting its project timeline. States must submit quarterly reports and an annual activities and progress report, as required in the stimulus law, so that IES may review them for required procedures and proper spending.

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.”

“Longitudinal data is not just a K-12 issue; it requires gubernatorial commitment because all of our systems–from early childhood, to K-12 education, to colleges and universities, to workforce development, to employment databases–must work together to make data collection possible,” Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, chairman of the National Governors Association, said at a March forum.

That forum, “Leveraging the Power of Data to Improve Education,” was sponsored by the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), an organization that promotes the use of student data to improve academic achievement by implementing statewide longitudinal data systems.

“And we need to do more to make the data useful, because even the best data collection system is worthless if it does not change what goes on in the classroom,” Rendell said.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor in the U.S. House of Representatives, voiced strong support for the new federal investment in data systems.

Miller said he hopes states and districts “will take a serious and thoughtful approach about how they can use data to help improve student learning.”

“States have made great progress in building their longitudinal data systems, but now we need a cultural shift to build the political will and take the practical steps needed to ensure that [these] data [are] accessed, shared, and used for continuous education improvement,” said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, director of the Data Quality Campaign.

Guidera said DQC will turn its attention to helping states identify and execute policies and practices to help stakeholders use education data.

DQC urges that data systems reflect its 10 essential data system elements, found here. Some of those essential elements include a statewide student identifier; student-level enrollment, test, and course completion/transcript data; information on untested students; and a statewide teacher identifier with a student-teacher matching component.

According to a 2008 DQC survey about states’ progress in developing data systems, only six states have all 10 essential elements of a strong student data system, but 48 states have at least 5 of the essential elements. (See “Forum calls for better data use in education.”)

State data systems ideally would serve many purposes, DQC says, including improving instruction and identifying successful state instructional programs, devising methods to recognize effective teachers and teaching methods, and maintain updated and accurate information about schools’ and students’ progress.

A DQC guide released at the forum lists 10 action steps that states should take to move from collecting data for compliance to using data for improvement. Supporters say the 10 steps will expand the reach of state longitudinal data systems and will build the capacity of all stakeholders to use longitudinal data for effective decision making. The guide, with examples of states that have implemented model efforts, is available at http://www.dataqualitycampaign.org/resources/384.

The 10 steps are:

1. Link state K-12 data systems with early learning, postsecondary education, workforce development, social services, and other critical state agency data systems.
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.


Leveraging the Power of Data to Improve Education (archived webcast)

The Next Step: Using Longitudinal Data Systems To Improve Student Success

Data Quality Campaign

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