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Data Systems in Place, States Should Act On Flood of Student Information, Report Says

from guest blogger Lesli A. Maxwell

Now that every state has the tools to track individual students' academic performance over time, the hard work of actually making the hordes of data usable to teachers and policymakers must get moving.

So says the Data Quality Campaign, the nonprofit, Washington-based organization that champions the use of data in education to improve the academic achievement of students. DQC—which released its seventh and final report last month examining states' progress in adopting what the nonprofit considers to be the 10 "essential elements" of student data systems—is turning its attention now to helping states effectively use their longitudinal data systems.

Today, the DQC is hosting a national data summit (you can watch it online) with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to highlight what concrete steps states need to take to turn the data collection into information that policymakers, school board members, superintendents, principals, teachers and parents can use to improve student achievement.

"States have undeniably made tremendous progress in collecting quality data, but, simply put, it isn't enough," said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, the executive director of the DQC. "The hard work lies ahead, and we won't meet our educational goals until everyone in education, from parents to policymakers, is empowered to use data to make informed decisions aimed at improving student achievement."

In conjunction with the summit, the DQC is releasing a new report—Data for Action 2011: Empower with Data—which outlines four "game-changing priorities" for states to follow:

1. Tap a broad range of stakeholders to help determine the key policy issues that will shape how states develop data efforts and put them into practice. The best example, says the DQC: The Illinois P-20 Council.

2. Give clear decision-making authority over student data systems to a governing body that will oversee and be held accountable for thorny issues such as privacy, data-sharing and transparency. The DQC's model state: Maryland for its Longitudinal Data System Center Governing Board.

3. Provide data on how teachers impact student performance to the colleges and universities that trained them. The DQC's exemplar state: Louisiana for the feedback it gives to its teacher preparation programs on how their graduates are affecting student achievement.

4. Judge whether reports on high schools, which include data on important issues such as graduation rates and college-going rates, are meeting local needs in a timely way. The DQC's pick for best state: Kentucky, for providing feedback reports on high schools within a year for a graduating class, rather than two years, and breaking down college-going rates and student performance by race and income.

DQC's report also spells out 10 policy actions for states to follow to ensure that their data systems don't just function as repositories for information that doesn't get used. Among them: Linking K-12 data systems with early childhood, higher education, workforce, social services and other agencies; providing funding for the state data systems; creating progress reports using individual student data that give information that educators, parents and students can use to improve student performance; and providing training to teachers and principals on how to read and interpret student data and use it to adjust classroom instruction and make decisions about practices in schools.

The data summit today will also feature Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the school system in the District of Columbia; former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen; and Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday.

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