data use

Four essential priorities for making sense of student data

A new report outlines how careful data use and policies can support elevated teaching and learning

Four data policy priorities can help state policymakers take advantage of data provisions in the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) in order to move from data compliance to leveraging data to improve student learning, according to a new report from the Data Quality Campaign (DQC).

The report, Time to Act: Making Data Work for Students, says policymakers at every level should follow the four data policy prescriptions in order: measuring what matters, making data use possible, being transparent and earning trust, and guaranteeing access and protecting privacy.

Specifically, the report provides recommendations to help policymakers transform data from a tool for compliance to one that supports continuous improvement and achieves results, including state and district-based examples of how leaders have effectively used education data.

The recommendations outlined in the report leverage the longitudinal data systems that exist in every state and how the effective use of such data can allow for every student in the country to be provided a personalized learning experience that best fits his or her needs.

Released April 26 at a national summit featuring various politicians and education policy leaders from across the country, DQC’s new report emphasizes that when students, parents, educators and community partners have the right information to make the right decisions, students have the best chance to excel.

“When those closest to students have the right data, at the right time, in the right format, with the training and tools to use it well, students thrive,” said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, president and CEO of DQC. “Now that we have the information to support every student in the nation, we must act to ensure no student falls off the path to success.”

Next page: How states are putting the policies into action

The report also highlights the importance of ensuring teachers and policymakers know how to use and understand data so they are able to make informed policy decisions on key education topics, such as early childhood education access, teacher quality, or college and career readiness.

“We are at a really critical time in our nation—for the first time ever, we have all the information we need to make sure every child stays on track and to make sure we are personlizing learning for every student,” said Guidera. “We’re finally at the point where we can talk about how data can be used to help open doors for children.”

Because every state now has a robust longitudinal data system—an “incredible feat,” Guidera said— “it’s now possible for every student to benefit from personalized learning.”

The brief provides four recommendations, along with state examples corresponding to each recommendation, for policymakers:

Measure What Matters: Be clear about what students must achieve and have the data to ensure all students are on track to succeed, including by connecting data from early childhood through K–12 to postsecondary and the workforce.

Washington State has been successful in this policy area by having its Education Research and Data Center (ERDC) collaborate with parents, researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders to identify and prioritize research and policy questions. The ERDC uses a variety of indicators based on state longitudinal data to answer these questions through published studies and reports. Developing measures of success based on multiple factors, in addition to statewide assessments, is also critical to demonstrating progress toward stated goals.

Make Data Use Possible: Provide teachers and leaders the flexibility, training, and support they need to effectively and quickly use data to support student outcomes. State leaders should push for policies that support districts and schools to prioritize data use.

Delaware has done this by investing in resources that give the state the capacity to analyze data about education outcomes, which then informs policy decisions. For example, the state’s research on teacher quality led to the proposition of Senate Bill 51, which required teacher preparation programs to raise admission standards and emphasized high-quality student teaching experiences.

Be Transparent and Earn Trust: Ensure every community understands how its schools and students are doing and how data is valuable, protected and used.

In Ohio, this is done using an online school report card platform that allows the public to access timely, high-quality, and relevant information on districts and schools that is easy to navigate and provides clear ratings around issues including student performance, enrollment and graduation rates, and education funding.

Guarantee Access and Protect Privacy: Provide teachers and parents timely information on their students and make sure it’s kept safe.

For example, Indiana provides teachers, parents and students secure access to student data using Learning Connection, a platform that allows for teacher collaboration and helps teachers personalize learning to meet unique student needs. Meanwhile, Idaho has made protecting student data a top priority by passing the Student Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act in 2014.

The report also offers conceptual changes that are important for the conversation around data use to continue, Guidera said, including putting students at the center of the conversation and ensuring data use supports student learning, as well as shifting the focus from building data systems to empowering the people behind the data.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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