The U.S. Department of Education and a coalition of private groups are launching separate but coordinated efforts to improve the quality of educational data and to make it easier to use.
The Education Department is trying to streamline the various ways it collects data from states and school districts into a single process, and it is also making grants to 14 states to help them improve their own data systems, department officials told state education officials at a one-day “data summit” convened here Nov. 17 by the Council of Chief State School Officers.
At the same meeting, a partnership of 10 educational research and advocacy groups announced the beginning of a Data Quality Campaign to help all states improve the quality of the data they collect and to help them find ways to use the data in improving student achievement.
“We need to invest in these data systems,” said Aimee R. Guidera, the director of the Washington office for the National Center for Educational Accountability. “This is a national forum to bring about these investments.”
The amount and quality of educational data are expanding and improving, according to an NCEA survey released at the event, which was held the day before the chiefs’ annual policy forum started here.
States are making progress toward adopting the 10 ingredients that the Austin, Texas-based nonprofit group says are essential to any statewide data system. Thirty-six states say that they have a “student identifier” they can use to track a child’s progress from grade to grade, even if the student moves to different districts in the state. That’s an increase from the 21 states that had such identifiers when the NCEA first surveyed states two years ago.
Thirty-two states say they can track individual students’ test scores from year to year, and 38 are capable of collecting enrollment and demographic data in specific programs to evaluate the success of those programs.
But the NCEA survey also found that only 13 states have methods for determining whether individual teachers are successfully improving student achievement, and that just seven collect data on students’ coursetaking and grades—important elements in knowing what students need to study in order to be prepared to succeed in college.
To help states continue to upgrade data systems, Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the director of the Education Department’s Institute of Education Sciences, announced at the data summit that 14 states will receive $52.8 million over the next three years in competitive grant funding. The state grants range from $1.5 million to $5.8 million.
The federal support is necessary, state officials said, because states often struggle to pay for the expansion of their data systems.
“It’s always hard to make the case to state legislatures that [data systems are] exciting and sexy,” said Alice Seagren, Minnesota’s commissioner of education and a former state representative.
That, however, may be changing, she said. As local school officials become more interested in using data to inform their decisions, they may be able to persuade reluctant legislators to underwrite projects that improve the quality of their education data.
“As schools are getting more and more savvy,” Ms. Seagren said, “we’re going to have more pressure on the legislature.”
Leaders of both private and public efforts discussed ways they seek to make life easier for state and district school officials.
On the federal level, federal officials told the audience of chiefs and other state officials that they are developing a single reporting system to handle data requests across the pre-K-16 spectrum. Now, states often need to send the same data to different Education Department offices.
The private partnership will also seek to make it easier for states to respond to their groups’ requests for data, said Dane Linn, the education policy director for the National Governors Association, one of the partnership’s members. The 10 groups in the effort will coordinate requests to states so the states don’t have to duplicate their efforts in responding to them.
Besides the NCEA and the NGA, the partnership includes the CCSSO, Achieve Inc., Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services, the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Education Trust, the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, the School Interoperability Framework Association, and the State Higher Education Executive Officers.