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Common Data Initiative Proposes New Postsecondary Standards

It seems to be the day for big announcements on the data front. Just a few hours after the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation launched a new tool this morning to translate information across data systems within a state, the Common Education Data Standards Initiative released its first draft of the second stage of its core data definitions, intended to get state data systems talking the same language.

As I reported last fall, the initiative is building up a core set of commonly used data categories and codes, from the meaning of "black" in relation to a student's race to the meaning of a teacher's base salary. The first version focused primarily on the types of data needed for kindergarten through 12th grade accountability reporting, according to Gary West, the strategic initiatives director for information systems at the Council of Chief State School Officers, one of the partner groups of the initiative.

The newly proposed second version, West told me, is "a much broader set of data elements with a broader set of relationships. We're very interested in expanding the common language for states to be able to talk to each other and do research together on how to improve student performance, program effectiveness and things like that."

This iteration includes new data categories for linking K-12 and postsecondary information, such as the classifications for the type of instructional program, as well as definitions for more detailed K-12 data, such as indicators that a course aligns with state content standards.

So far 30 states have started to map the definitions of their longitudinal student data systems onto the common definitions, West said.

"People are using these [data definitions] as they are building the data systems required by Race to the Top," said Hans P. L'Orange, the vice president for research and information resources at State Higher Education Executive Officers, another initiative partner. "It meets all the goals of making data transparent and being able to follow students no matter where they go in time and space."

This doesn't mean states who adopt the standards will automatically be able to compare data across state lines, L'Orange warned, but, "If you don't have standardization, you know you can't compare; if you do have standardization, you know it's feasible and it's much more likely to happen. You're comparing apples to apples."

The draft standards will be open to public comment for the next month. The initiative's working group will then review the comments and release a second draft for comment this fall, with a final version of the updated standards set to be released in January 2012.

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