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Report: State Data Systems Progress, Though Key Challenges Remain

A new report from education data coalition Data Quality Campaign is calling on policymakers to strengthen links between K-12, workforce, and post-secondary institutions.

Over the last six years, 36 states have built all of the essential elements to make effective longitudinal data systems possible. But key challenges remain in putting those capabilities to effective use, according to a report released Dec. 1 by Data Quality Campaign, a coalition representing 95 education-centric foundations, advocacy groups, associations, and other organizations.

State Progress
Data Quality Campaign offers a roadmap focused on implementing effective data systems broken down into to groups of key policy priorities: the 10 State Actions to Ensure Effective Data Use and the 10 Essential Elements of a State Longitudinal Data System. According to DCQ's new report, "Data for Action 2011," 36 states have adopted all 10 of the group's "Essential Elements"--up from zero when the campaign launched in 2005. And all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, have adopted at least half of those Essential Elements.

Those elements include:

  • Establishing statewide student identifiers;
  • Collecting information on student information, including demographics, enrollment, and program participation;
  • Creating statewide databases to track student test performance;
  • Recording information about untested students;
  • Creating a teacher identification system that links teachers to students;
  • Tracking, at the state level, student grades and courses;
  • Collecting college admission and preparedness data;
  • Gathering student retention data;
  • Matching student records between pre-kindergarten, K-12, and higher education; and
  • Establishing auditing systems to ensure data quality.

In a press conference this morning, Aimee Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, characterized states' progress in adopting those elements as "unprecedented."

Broad Challenges
The challenge remaining, however, is making effective use of those elements, as DQC defines effective use, which includes linking student data from pre-kindergarten through career; establishing policies for sharing data across agencies; and building capacity for stakeholders to be able to understand and use data.

According to the report: "All states can realize the vision of effective data use in education, but the question looms: Will they? States have undoubtedly made tremendous progress, but the hardest work remains. The stakes have never been higher as policymakers and educators are asked to deliver all students a world-class education with fewer resources. The education sector will never reach this goal without effective data use and the political leadership to get us there."

Call to Action: Data Literacy
DQC's Guidera stressed the need to ensure that stakeholders--including teachers and administrators--actually know how to use the data and data systems that are made available to them. On the teacher side, she cited the need to tie teacher licensure and certification to competency in the use of data and to work with colleges of education to ensure that the graduates they produce are coming into their careers with the basic skills needed to understand and use longitudinal data.

"We want to highlight that much more needs to be done to expand that access to data to ensure that people know where to get that information, how to get it," she told reporters. "But also, increasingly, how do we ensure we build stakeholders' capacity to use that data?"

She continued: "... It matters for teachers to know how to access and use data...."

Teacher and principal data literacy is one of the three key calls to action broken out in the "Data for Action 2011" report. Currently, the analysis revealed,only six states share data with teacher preparation programs about their graduates--a key to ensuring program effectiveness, DQC argued. And only 10 states tie data literacy to teacher and principal certification.

Call to Action: Governance
Another of the action items spotlighted in the report centered on governance and the need to leverage policy to break down barriers for effectively sharing data.

Guidera cited four broad sticking points to effective use and implementation of state longitudinal data systems from the report--"turf, trust, technology, and time":

  • Developing a culture for supporting working "across traditional boundaries" (turf);
  • Ensuring that data will be used to inform action rather than punish (trust);
  • Technological limitations; and
  • Time limitations and competing priorities.

Call to Action: Linking Data
Finally, the report also stressed the need to extend data systems into the workforce by matching data between K-12 and the workforce and between post-secondary education and the workforce.

"The majority of states do not have the capacity to inform efforts to prepare citizens for jobs because those states are unable to follow students into the workforce and understand the relationship between education and jobs," the report argued.

Additional details and a link to the "Data for Action 2011" report can be found in the Data Quality Campaign library. DQC will also be holding public forums focusing on state data systems over the coming months, including a webinar Dec. 15 focusing on the report and a National Data Summit to be held Jan. 18. Additional details can be found on the Data Quality Campaign site.

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