School & District Management

States Make Progress on Data Systems, Advocacy Group Reports

By Benjamin Herold — November 19, 2013 4 min read
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There are significant signs of progress in the effort to build more coherent statewide educational data systems, an advocacy group reports: Dozens of states are now linking K-12 and postsecondary information systems to each other, for example, while teachers in 35 states now have access to multiple years’ worth of data about the students in their classrooms.

But the Data Quality Campaign’s annual report, released Tuesday, also found that just 14 states currently offer parents access to data that track their own children’s progress over time, and only nine states were deemed to provide appropriate access to students’ data while also effectively protecting their privacy. In a conference call with reporters, executive director Aimee Guidera highlighted both issues as key challenges, especially given growing concerns from parents and advocates that the proliferation of student data is threatening children’s privacy.

“This year, states are reporting more capacity than they’ve ever had, to not only collect data in a more robust way, but also to turn this data into actionable information,” said Ms. Guidera. “It’s incredibly important that parents understand why the information is so valuable to them and that we ensure and build trust that this information is being kept safe and secure.”

‘Action Steps’

The report, “Right Questions, Right Data, Right Answers: Data for Action 2013,” is the Data Quality Campaign’s ninth. Since 2005, the Washington-based group has been tracking states’ progress against 10 “action steps” it deems essential to having high-functioning data systems. All of the data are self-reported by each state’s governor’s office. This year, every state but California participated.

Among the developments the Data Quality Campaign deemed as positive:

• Arkansas and Delaware are the first states to complete all 10 recommended actions, which include building state data repositories and implementing policies to help educators better use data in the classroom.

• Forty-four states now annually match K-12 and postsecondary data in ways that allow educators to know how their students do after they graduate high school and go on to college.

• Forty-three states have developed “governance structures to guide data collection and use,” up from 40 last year and 36 in 2011. Experts say this is a key step toward clearly defining various parties’ roles and responsibilities when it comes to collecting, storing, safeguarding, and sharing data.

• Most states now produce readily accessible reports on how high schools are performing (42 states), as well as on cohort graduate or completion rates (40).

“The biggest leap this year has been in providing greater access to information across the board,” Ms. Guidera said.

Less encouraging, though, were findings that:

• Just 9 states were deemed to be taking a comprehensive set of steps to provide appropriate access to data while protecting students’ privacy. Included within this category are indicators that “parents, teachers, and appropriate stakeholders have access to student-level longitudinal data” (14 states); “state policy ensures that teachers and parents have access to their students’ longitudinal data” (10 states); and, “the state is transparent about who is authorized to assess specific data and for what purposes” (26 states).

• Just 19 states are linking K-12 and workforce data in ways that allow policymakers to know how students do after they leave school and enter the workforce—and to gauge if students were prepared for the work world.

• Only 12 states were deemed to have effectively implemented or promoted a series of policies and practices intended to build educators’ capacity to use data.

Sharing the Data

“We need to focus on providing better feedback systems,” Ms. Guidera said, highlighting teacher-preparation programs as one key audience where more extensive data-sharing can lead to improvement. That means linking teacher performance, presumably as measured by their students’ performance, to the institution that trained those teachers. Seventeen states currently share such data with teacher-preparation programs, according to the report, up from six states in 2011 and eight last year.

Ms. Guidera stressed that the types of data systems that her organization tracks are “states’ data systems, being created by states, to meet states’ needs.” While the federal government has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to support such efforts, primarily via the Race to the Top competition and grants from the Institute of Education Sciences, most states are appropriating money of their own to improving their data systems, she said.

Ms. Guidera also said the legislative landscape around student data is poised to begin changing rapidly, pointing to what she described as “a really good piece of legislation” passed in Oklahoma in June as an example of what could be soon to come elsewhere. The Oklahoma legislation requires increased clarity and transparency around the policies and procedures for safeguarding student data.

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A version of this article appeared in the December 04, 2013 edition of Education Week

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