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Time To Focus on Helping People Use Education Data

Although states are doing a masterful job of accumulating data and integrating data sources to support education improvement, the next part of the job may be their toughest yet: teaching people how to use the data. That's the point of a new report, presentation, and tweet fest from the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), a nonpartisan organization promoting the use of data to help students succeed in schools, colleges, and the workplace.

According to its eighth annual analysis of state progress in this area, a number of states have come a long way in putting in place the essential systems required to improve system performance and student achievement, as defined by the DQC. These initiatives encompass:

  • Linking state K-12 data systems with early learning, post-secondary, workforce, and other entities;
  • Creating longitudinal data systems with long-term support;
  • Developing governance structures to guide data collection, sharing; and use;
  • Building data repositories that include data on students and staff along with finances and facilities;
  • Creating progress reports on individual students to improve performance;
  • Creating reports using longitudinal data for continual system-wide improvements;
  • Developing a pre-K through workforce research agenda;
  • Promoting strategies to raise awareness of available data;
  • Promoting professional development and credentialing of educators on data literacy; and
  • Implementing systems to provide timely access to data.

No state, according to DQC has accomplished all 10 goals; the closest are Arkansas and Delaware. Only nine states, for example, provide parents with access to student-level data. But the latter two areas in the list, especially, have been little addressed. Expanding on credentialing of educators has only been undertaken by six states, according to DQC, and providing timely access to the data systems is being addressed by only five states. Both areas, the DQC points out, require changes in how people behave.

"States should be commended for their hard work building robust data systems. But it's time to focus on the people side of the data equation--how this benefits teachers and students," said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, executive director of DQC. "State policymakers must actively support a culture in which all education stakeholders are actually using and learning from this crucial information to improve student achievement--not just using data for shame and blame."

Barriers to success include a lack of governance structures with the appropriate permissions to share important data, even in limited ways; a dearth of dashboards and reports that can be used by non-experts, such as parents; and too little training--particularly of teachers--in how to use the data effectively.

Yet the DQC was also quick to point out data use success stories. According to the DQC's report, "Data for Action 2012," Kentucky, as an example, is feeding information to its high schools about graduates' performance in college, which in turn has been used to increase college enrollment. When educators indicated they weren't using the reports, state education leaders focused on how they could address users' needs to make the information from the reports more useable and on communicating the fact that the reports were intended to support continuous improvement. Although the state hesitates to point to this specific set of activities as solely responsible for improvements, it has seen postsecondary enrollment rise from 51 percent in 2004 to 61 percent in 2010.

In Ohio the Department of Education worked with the Board of Regents to generate teacher performance data based on links between teachers and students. That data is fed to teacher preparation programs to improve their courses and training and to help the teachers learn how to use data appropriately. According to the DQC, only eight states share teacher performance data with educator preparation programs.

The DQC offered five recommendations for states to pursue in 2013:

  • To implement a high-quality teacher-student data link, including a statewide "teacher of record" definition, a roster verification system, and the ability to link multiple educators per student per course;
  • To develop a feedback loop to share teacher performance data with teacher preparation programs;
  • To provide educators with access to timely data they can act on in order to personalize instruction and push their own professional development;
  • To focus professional development on helping teachers use data effectively; and
  • To develop teacher licensing and program approval policies that include having instructors prove they possess data literacy.

"We know that the value of data comes not in collecting it, but the power of data comes when it is provided to stakeholders in an actionable and user friendly manner," said Rogstad Guidera in a video published on the DQC website. "That transformation of data into actionable information does not happen automatically nor does it happen easily." It requires leadership and resources--time, energy, and money, she said. It also takes a culture change, "in which everyone values the information and feels empowered to use it."

The DQC website provides a set of tools on its home page that allow a user to gauge any given state's progress in education data usage.

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