Student Data

Report: Data Should Be Used to Drive Improvement in Schools, Not Punish Failure

"Education has not yet fully become an evidence-based sector." So declared Aimee Rogstad Guidera, the founder, president and CEO of the Data Quality Campaign, in the introduction to a report that examined how the use of data has evolved in K-12 over the last 10 years.

The DQC is a national non-profit created to support the use of "high-quality, accessible data in education." Its work focuses on increasing public understanding of the value of education data, improving the capacity of educators to use data and promoting wise policies at the local, state and federal levels regarding student data.

However, states have still come a long way in the last decade, according to "From Hammer to Flashlight." For example, now every state has a "robust longitudinal education data system" that can answer a wealth of education questions, whether it be to identify and help students who may be on track not to graduate from high school (as Massachusetts does) or to analyze how good teacher preparation programs are (as Tennessee does). Next, the DQC suggested, it's time for data to be used "to illuminate challenges and identify solutions for all students."

The "hammer" alluded to in the title refers to the use of data as a tool of accountability, ensuring that "targets are being met," and often punitively. The DQC report suggested that a better use of data is to use it as a "flashlight," "shining a light on what is working and fueling continuous improvement."

Achieving progress with data requires several elements, the report noted:

  • Leadership that can help prioritize the use of data to fuel improvement;
  • A bigger focus on people as users and less on the IT aspects to ensure that the data systems serve people's information needs;
  • A high level off transparency and understanding about what data is being collected and why, to build trust among stakeholders;
  • Greater collaboration among government, philanthropic organizations and advocacy groups, to make sure everybody is "pulling in the same direction";
  • Creation of data governance committees across agencies, to set the vision, mission, policies and practices of the data work; and
  • Expansion of data literacy to help people use data effectively, ethically and continuously.

For all the progress made in the last decade in the K-12 sector, the report observed, education "has only just begun its journey to develop a culture that values and uses data. Building the infrastructure was the easy part. The more difficult part remains--truly making data work for students."

The complete report is available through the DQC website here.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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