School & District Management

How Do States Use Data Collected on Millions of Students?

By Sarah D. Sparks — April 26, 2016 2 min read
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State longitudinal student-data systems have evolved, but collecting data alone is not enough to help teachers and researchers use the information to make meaningful improvements for students, according to the latest in a series of annual reports by the Data Quality Campaign.

“Data systems are just not enough,” said Aimee Guidera, the president of the campaign, in a briefing with reporters Monday. “Data by itself does not change anything. We need to prioritize meeting the information needs of the people who are working to support student academic success.”

States Build Data Structure, Lag on Use

Since 2005, the nonprofit DQC has tracked the rapid development of states’ longitudinal student data systems, the massive collections of information on students’ K-12 careers. Within a decade, nearly all states had met most of the group’s 10 elements for the systems, such as using unique student identifiers, and put into place its recommended secondary steps, such as linking K-12 data with early-childhood, college, and workforce information systems.

But many states just never made much progress on a few of those basic elements. As of 2014, when the DQC ended its own state surveys, nine states had not yet created student-level transcript data, such as the information on courses completed and grades earned from middle and high school. That’s a bit ironic, considering it’s probably information that’s most often needed by the students themselves, if they go on to postsecondary education or some jobs.

Similarly, states have lagged in the recommended state actions related to actually using the data they collect: As of 2014, only 11 states provided systemic ways for people who aren’t researchers—like teachers, students, or parents—to access the data that’s pertinent to them. Some 15 states didn’t even provide basic progress reports to those groups.

In lieu of the campaign’s usual update on state progress—which Guidera said will be released in a series of reports next fall—the report lays out four policy priorities for states:

  • Be clear about what students must achieve and use data to make sure all are on track to do so;
  • Provide teachers and education leaders flexibility, training, and support to use the data to answer questions and act on the answers;
  • Be transparent and explain exactly why student data is needed and how it will be used—"We know that if people don’t trust data, they will never use it,” Guidera said—and,
  • Give teachers and parents access to information on their students while protecting students’ privacy.

Guidera said Congress made “an incredible step forward” in launching a new commission on evidence-based policymaking, but noted that under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states will be the main drivers of how well data can be used to improve education.


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.