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Report Emphasizes Creating Culture of Better Data Use in Schools

While states have made significant progress in building robust longitudinal data systems and supporting data use in K-12 education, they now face the more challenging task of building a culture that encourages intelligent use of data within schools to improve teaching and learning, says the latest edition of an annual report released today by the Washington-based Data Quality Campaign.

"When you look at the actions that are lagging, it's because those are the ones that require the focus on people," said Aimee Guidera, the executive director of the nonprofit data advocacy organization. The infrastructure of data systems has now largely been built, she said, but now "it's not just about collecting the data, but putting a focus on how we make sure that valuable, actionable, contextual information gets into the hands of stakeholders."

In the report, states are evaluated based on ten actions they are encouraged to take to support effective data use. Those ten actions fall into three categories: linking data and making sure that the infrastructure and policies are in place to maintain those linkages; making sure that data can be accessed, analyzed, and used; and ensuring that stakeholders have access to the data and know how to use it. While no states have implemented all ten actions, ten states now have eight to nine of the actions in place, up from four states in 2011.

"We're very, very hopeful that next year and the year after that we'll see several states reaching all ten actions," said Guidera. "States are bringing people together, and the fruits of those labors will start showing up in the next several years."

Making that cultural shift to put a higher value on data takes at least three components, the report said. Those components include: leadership from pre-K, all the way through K-12 and postsecondary education, and up to leaders overseeing the state's workforce data; policies that support the use of data; and resources such as time, money, and technology. And it's not just a cultural shift at the school level, said Guidera, but at the state policy and district levels as well.

The report points to Kentucky as an example of a state that has fostered a culture that embraces better use of data. The state created a high school feedback report to inform districts about students' outcomes in postsecondary education, it dedicated time and effort to building a robust P-20 longitudinal data system, the legislature passed policies requiring the state to collect and report on certain types of education data, and education leaders reformed the data reports to make them more usable and actionable by teachers. Since those measures were put in place, the state's postsecondary enrollment has increased from 50.9 percent in 2004 to 61.4 percent in 2010. Although that rise cannot be solely credited to the emphasis on better data use, experts say having those measures in place certainly helped boost those numbers.

Overall, the report recommends three target areas of improvement. The first is the linking of preK-20 data with workforce data, which only 14 states currently have in place. Secondly, states need to ensure that all stakeholders, especially parents, have access to the available data. And lastly, states need to continue to build the capacity of stakeholders to use and understand the data.

"People realize we have to do this, but the hard work starts now," said Guidera. "We've now built the data systems, but the hard work is empowering people to know how to access and use them."

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