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Report: 4 Keys to Educational Data Systems

While every state in the United States has built up the capacity to collect meaningful longitudinal data related to education, no states are doing all that's necessary to make sure data will be used effectively by stakeholders, according to a report released Wednesday by Data Quality Campaign.

Data Quality Campaign is a coalition representing education-focused foundations, advocacy groups, associations, and other organizations. The group provides resources focused on implementing effective data systems in education, including two sets of key policy priorities: the 10 State Actions to Ensure Effective Data Use and the 10 Essential Elements of a State Longitudinal Data System.

This week, the group held its 2012 National Data Summit and released a followup to a December 2011 report on states' approaches to collecting and sharing educational data. The report, "Data for Action 2011," noted that while most states had adopted at least a couple of DQC's 10 recommendations for effective use of data, none had adopted all of them, and only four--Texas, Arkansas, Florida, and Delaware--have, to date, adopted at least eight of them.

Those 10 recommended actions for states include:

  • Linking K-12 data systems with government agencies, "workforce," early learning, and higher education, a measure that, by DQC's reckoning, has been adopted by just 11 states so far;
  • Implementing supports for longitudinal data systems, adopted by 27 states;
  • Developing governance for data collection and dissemination, in place in 36 states;
  • Creating warehouses for integrated data, the most popular of the action items, with 44 states adopting;
  • Creating systems that protect student privacy but provide "timely access" to "all stakeholders," adopted by just two states;
  • Implementing progress reports designed to help boost student performance on an individual level, currently adopted by 29 states;
  • Implementing reports designed to improve performance at the school, district, and state level, in place in 36 states;
  • Collaborating with researchers and developing "a purposeful research agenda" for mining data for useful information, in place in 31 states;
  • Ensuring that educators are able to use data by implementing professional development and incorporating data use into the credentialing process, adopted by just three states so far; and
  • Promoting awareness of data, including how to access and use it, currently in place in 23 states.

To help accelerate adoption of all of the action points in the Data for Action plan, the Data Quality Campaign issued four calls to action to policymakers, dubbed "Game-Changing Priorities for States."

Those included:

  1. Taking public input and identifying important policies that "will inform the development, implementation, and evaluation of the state’s data efforts";
  2. Among K-12, pre-K, higher education, and workforce data governance bodies, establishing "decision-making authority" for tackling issues of data use;
  3. Reporting teacher effectiveness data to the schools that prepared them; and
  4. Continuing to address the needs of end users by determining whether existing tools are effective and fixing or refining them when they are not.

During Wednesday's Data Quality Campaign summit, prominent education leaders--including United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan--discussed the need for more effective use of data. Duncan, among others, emphasized that the collection of data is not an end in itself.

"Our goal here is not data," Duncan said. "Our goal is to change behavior." Duncan made his remarks at a roundtable focused on data use in education during the National Data Summit.

Duncan also emphasized the need for quality data in light of the current budgetary hardships that schools are facing. He said that, without data, he's seen education systems cutting programs across the board rather than reducing funding on programs that don't work and investing more heavily in those that do.

"Some things you should be cutting 100 percent; [in] some things you should be tripling your investment," he said. "But the only way you make those decisions is to have some ability to look at [return on investment, or ROI]. But what you see all the time is ... [decision makers] just cut everything. That just tells me they have no idea of all their investments what's making a difference and what's not."

Additional details about the calls to action and DQC's educational data policy activities can be found on Data Quality Campaign's site.

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidrnagel/ .