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Report Finds More States Collecting Data to Inform Educators, Parents

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Cross-posted from the Digital Education blog.

By Michelle R. Davis

States are making significant strides toward establishing effective statewide educational data systems that help inform instruction, improve teacher preparation, and provide detailed school and district information to stakeholders, according to a new report released Thursday by the Data Quality Campaign.

The report, "Data for Action 2014: Paving the Path to Success," evaluated all 50 states and the District of Columbia to see whether they were accomplishing the 10 state actions the organization established for an effective statewide data system, and if so, how.

The actions were created five years ago to move states from collecting data for compliance and accountability purposes to using the data effectively. "States are making incredible strides," said Aimee Guidera, the executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, which evaluates states annually. "They have really changed the culture around the use of data."

In past years states were more focused on establishing data systems, but now that they are in place--every state has some form of educational data system and is collecting information--the focus is on "continuous improvement and transparency," Guidera said. "The conversation has switched from collecting data to turning it into actionable information and getting it in the right format at the right time for the right individual."

According to the report, in 2014:

  • 41 states budgeted state funds for their data systems, indicating they are an important investment
  • 41 states produced publicly accessible high school feedback reports, which included information on how graduates fared at the postsecondary education level
  • 18 states implemented policies and practices to ensure that educators know how to access, analyze and use the data to inform their instruction
  • 22 states share information about teacher performance with educator preparation programs

However, states need to go further when it comes to timely and transparent access to appropriate data for a variety of stakeholders, including parents, educators and students, Guidera said, adding that states should take a customer service approach to data, rather than that of a compliance officer. In addition, states are having difficulty linking K-12 education data to workforce data systems, which could allow education officials to draw conclusions about which students have the most success following high school or which subject area is meeting workforce needs.

States are also thinking about the issue of privacy surrounding this data, the report found. In 2014, 36 states considered 110 bills directly addressing student data privacy. The report recommends that states establish governance structures to determine decision-making processes and responsibilities around the data, and to improve privacy policies and practices.

Educators should receive more training to become "data literate" to help them understand not only how to keep student data private, but also how to use it effectively to inform classroom instruction, the report said. The state of Virginia is working on that effort, said Bethann Canada, the director of the Office of Educational Information Management at the Virginia Department of Education. "There's a need for ongoing professional development in the use of the data," she said. "We're working on making this research consumable by teachers, guidance counselors...and parents," she said.

Kansas has emphasized making the data collected particularly accessible by creating school and district accountability reports that allow visitors to drill down through a long list of information collected—including graduates, dropout numbers, salaries, algebra mastery, suspensions, and student satisfaction survey results, said Linda Smith, the data privacy coordinator, applications development and project management supervisor for the Kansas State Department of Education.

"It's designed to allow users to have multiple ways to view data," she said.

With all the information being collected, it's even more important to make sure educators can find, trust, and use the data, Guidera said "We're realizing," she said, "that if teachers and school leaders don't know how to access the information and don't know how to use it, then all of this effort is for naught."


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