Report Exhorts States to Put Student Data to Work

By Lesli A. Maxwell — January 24, 2012 4 min read
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Now that every state has the tools to track individual students’ academic performance over time, the hard work of making the flood of data useful must get moving.

That’s the new push from the Data Quality Campaign, the Washington-based nonprofit organization that champions the use of data in education to improve the academic achievement of students.

Since releasing its seventh and final report examining states’ progress in adopting what it considers the 10 “essential elements” of student-data systems last month, the DQC is turning its attention now to helping states put their longitudinal-data systems to effective use, and right away.

Hoping to highlight that new urgency, the DQC hosted a national data “summit” in Washington last week with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other high-profile supporters of data use. The group outlined concrete steps that states can take to turn their data into information that policymakers, school board members, superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, and students themselves can use to improve achievement.

“How are we going to empower every stakeholder in the education system to use this information to inform their decisions and actions to improve education for every single child in this country?” said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, the executive director of the DQC. “The stakes are too high to keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is not using all of this information that we have.”

Setting Priorities

The DQC spells out four “game-changing priorities” for states to adopt in a new report released at the national summit.

As states wrestle with how to use all the data they collect to address key issues such as improving the effectiveness of their teaching corps and better preparing students for college and careers, the DQC report calls for them to tap a broad range of stakeholders, including parents and students themselves.

States must also grant clear decisionmaking authority over student-data systems to governing bodies that will oversee and be held accountable for solving thorny issues such as privacy, data-sharing across agencies, and transparency. The DQC cites Maryland’s Longitudinal Data System Center Governing Board as an example that other states should emulate.

Another critical priority for states, the report says, is providing data on how teachers are affecting student performance directly to the colleges and universities that train those teachers. Currently, only six states do so, including Louisiana and Tennessee.

“How can we expect schools of education to be part of our goal of having an effective teacher in every classroom if they don’t have this information on how their graduates are doing?” Ms. Guidera said.

Finally, the DQC report says states need to address whether school feedback reports—such as those on the performance of high schools used in many states—are meeting local needs in a timely way. The DQC holds up Kentucky as the best model for giving that kind of feedback. The state provides reports on high schools within a year for a graduating class, rather than two years, and breaks down college-going rates and student performance by race and income.

As it calls for states to move swiftly, the DQC acknowledges significant hurdles yet to cross.

One of the most difficult is the widely held perception that the state data systems have been designed mostly as a means of evaluating teachers, said former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat and a panelist at the summit.

“No data system will ever be successful if that’s seen as its primary goal,” Mr. Bredesen said. “The data is for so much more.”

Michelle A. Rhee, the founder and chief executive officer of StudentsFirst, an education advocacy organization based in Sacramento, Calif., agreed that the “trust factor” is a problem. She also took part in the DQC summit.

“We have to figure out a way to engage teachers in this process and gain their trust,” said Ms. Rhee, who as schools chancellor in the District of Columbia introduced a controversial teacher-evaluation system in the city. “We really want to build these systems in large part to help them become better professionals.”

The DQC’s new report also reiterates 10 policy actions that states need to take to ensure that their data systems don’t just function as repositories of unused information. The group spelled out the steps two years ago, but Ms. Guidera said no states had achieved all of them.

The recommendations include: linking K-12 data systems with early-childhood, higher education, social services, and other agencies; providing ongoing funding to maintain and operate the state data systems; creating individual student progress reports that educators, parents, and students can use to improve performance; and training teachers and principals on how to interpret student data and use it to adjust instructional practices.

A version of this article appeared in the January 25, 2012 edition of Education Week as Study Exhorts States To Accelerate Use Of Education Data


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