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States make gains in building data systems

States have improved, but can do more, when it comes to using student data in all aspects of education.

States have made unprecedented progress collecting longitudinal data in education, but they have not taken action to ensure data are used to improve student achievement, according to the Data Quality Campaign’s (DQC) sixth annual state analysis, Data for Action 2010, which tracks states’ progress toward a set of goals that will help states use educational data to the fullest.

When the DQC launched in 2005, no state had all 10 Essential Elements of Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems. Now, 24 states report they have implemented all 10 elements, and every state has committed to implement them by September 2011. States that implement the 10 elements have the necessary information to understand what works in education and can allocate scarce resources accordingly to improve student achievement.

Those 10 elements are:

  • A unique statewide student identifier that connects student data across key databases across years
  • Student-level enrollment, demographic, and program participation information
  • The ability to match individual students’ test records from year to year to measure academic growth
  • Information on untested students and the reasons they were not tested
  • A teacher identifier system with the ability to match teachers to students
  • Student-level transcript information, including information on courses completed and grades earned
  • Student-level college readiness test scores
  • Student-level graduation and dropout data
  • The ability to match student records between the preK-12 and higher education systems
  • A state data audit system assessing data quality, validity and reliability

For more on school data use, see:

Student Information Systems: Making the Grade?

State data systems present privacy concerns

In spite of this progress, the elements on educational data that lag behind are also those that are most critical to current policy discussions. Seventeen states cannot link teacher and student data, 15 states do not collect course-taking information, and 11 states report the inability to link K-12 and postsecondary data. These states cannot inform critical policy questions about teacher effectiveness and college and career readiness despite the growing demand for answers.

The results show that the barriers to implementing the 10 elements are not technical, but instead require leadership and political will. This is evidenced by Idaho’s dramatic growth from three to 10 essential elements in just one year.

“Last year, we were the last state in the nation to implement a longitudinal data system. Now, we are on par with some of the most advanced systems across the United States,” said Tom Luna, Idaho’s superintendent of public instruction and Council of Chief State School Officers president-elect. “In Idaho, we now will have current, accurate data to make better-informed decisions at all levels and to give classroom teachers the data they need to guide instruction every day.”

In addition to tracking state progress toward implementing the 10 essential elements, the DQC also tracks the 10 State Actions to Ensure Effective Data Use. No state has taken all 10 State Actions, so the rich data that states now collect are not strategically linked.

The 10 state actions are:

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

“This is a critical issue for everybody in education,” said Paul Lingenfelter, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers. “State higher education officers have understood that we need longitudinal data on students. We’re doing a much better job than we would have imagined possible, five years ago, communicating with K-12 and policy makers on the consequences and effects of education.”
Stakeholders do not have appropriate access to these data while protecting privacy, and they do not have the capacity to use data to improve student achievement. For example, although states have made some progress linking student and teacher data, only two states automatically share this information with educator preparation institutions, limiting their ability to improve programs and ensure all educators are prepared to be effective in the classroom.

“For the first time, half of the country can answer almost any critical question confronting policymakers, and every state is poised to have this capacity by September. There are no more excuses,” said Aimee Guidera, DQC executive director. “We are at a critical juncture in education, and state policymakers must take action to ensure data are not only collected but used by education stakeholders to improve student achievement.”

To support this culture change, the state analysis identifies five key priorities that states must implement to leverage current investments and ensure data are used:

  • Fulfill the 50-state commitment to implement the 10 Essential Elements by September 2011
  • Link K–12 with early childhood, postsecondary, and workforce data to answer critical policy questions
  • Provide teachers, students, and parents with access to longitudinal student-level data
  • Share data about teacher impact on student achievement with educator preparation institutions
  • Enact statewide preservice policies, including certification and licensure, and program approval, to build educator capacity to use data

The DQC’s state analysis comes at a time when states have made unprecedented progress but are also facing dramatic budget cuts. In spite of this pressure, state policymakers remain committed to supporting data use to improve student achievement.

“There is a thirst for knowledge, and once you find the right uses for data, people ask the right questions—the deeper questions,” said Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. “States have disparate abilities to report…there will be an effort to get into the states and analyze where the deficiencies are.”

Wilhoit added that stakeholders are “getting better at presenting data and also realize audiences are different” and require different presentation styles.

“It has long been a guiding principle of the O’Malley-Brown Administration that the things that get measured are the things that get done,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who was named the DQC’s 2010 State Policymaker of the Year. “We owe it to our students, parents, teachers and administrators to uphold the highest standards of accountability and transparency, and that starts with establishing quality education data systems to ensure Maryland students graduate high school prepared for college and highly skilled careers.”

O’Malley and key Maryland stakeholders are working to build robust statewide data systems that span early childhood to the workforce and protect data privacy, helping to ensure students graduate college and career ready.

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