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More Student Data Would Inform Teaching, Report Says

Digital Learning Now! has released its second report in a series that aims to provide guidance for states on implementing common-core standards as well as transitioning to a digital learning environment. This report focuses on the sharing of student information and data, something the report contends is not being done well in today's education system.

Most teachers know little about the students they receive at the start of the school year, the report says, which prevents them from being able to personalize learning for students from the first day of school. To help teachers keep better track of students' learning needs and academic progress, the report suggests creating data backpacks and learner profiles that would follow the student from year to year and from class to class. Data backpacks, which would be a digital store of information, would include transcript data such as demographic information, state testing data, and any student supports, as well as standards-based performance data, an electronic portfolio of student work, attendance and behavior records, end-of-course grades, and learning gains tied to standards. This would serve as a "super gradebook" and could even include observations from teachers.

Learner profiles would be more focused on the overall progress students are making towards college- and career-readiness. The profile would include items like digital badges and other recognitions that students earn, goal statements, achievement information, a "personal best" portfolio of student work, and a college- and career-readiness tracker.

With both the data backpack and learner profile in place, teachers will have a much more well-rounded and holistic picture of each student before they even step foot into the classroom, says the report. However, putting systems in place to support this kind of fluid and flexible sharing of student information doesn't come without its challenges. For one, privacy of student data is a concern. Schools and districts will have to put safeguards in place to comply with the federal FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act).

Beyond that, no such platform currently exists that would meet the demands of what the report calls for. Currently, many school's data systems exist in silos (i.e. the system that keeps track of attendance data is different from the system that keeps track of students' standardized test scores). Getting those systems to talk to each other will require an overhaul of current systems as well as collaboration between state policymakers, educators, industry players, funders, and state leaders.

Despite these challenges, the implementation of common-core standards, federal Race to the Top grants, and moving to online standardized tests by 2014-15 in accordance with the common-core assessments are converging to make fertile ground for such data systems to grow and evolve, the report says. "With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in the 2014-15 school year and the move to digital learning in many schools, districts will be receiving an unprecedented amount of extremely useful data," said John Bailey, the executive director of Digital Learning Now!, in a press release. "The key to harnessing [that data] is developing a unified student record that makes this information immediately accessible and useful to teachers, parents, and students themselves."

Digital Learning Now! is a campaign of the Foundation for Excellence in Education to advance state policies that support digital learning in K-12 schools.

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