More States Are Collecting and Using Student Data to Improve Education

The majority of states are funding data systems, but many still haven’t linked K-12 and workforce data.

A new report found that more states are expanding their use of student data, but some still have a long way to go.
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More now than ever, states are expanding the ways they use student data to inform how they make changes to and improve their education systems, according to a report released Tuesday from the Data Quality Campaign.

The Washington-based nonprofit measures states by a list of 10 benchmarks that show how effectively they use different data measures, such as linking K-12 and higher education data and creating progress reports with student-level data for teachers, students and parents. The group found that in 2013, Arkansas and Delaware were the first two states to meet all 10 benchmarks.

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The report says states aren't collecting any more data than they have for the last 10 years, but they're changing the way they use the data to inform teaching and decisions. By expanding the ways they use what data they collect, schools and teachers can better identify which students might be at risk of dropping out of school, for example, or what groups of students might need more help in a particular subject area, and adjust their teaching accordingly. Additionally, parents in many states can tap into online portals to monitor how their students are doing in school, a change from the once- or twice-a-year report cards parents have received in the past.

"What we've really seen this year, as one of the biggest changes, is focusing on getting the appropriate access of the right data to the right people at the right time, with the end goal of improving student achievements," said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, founder and executive director of DQC, in a call with reporters Monday. "Data is only useful, and is only valued by people, if it's actually meeting their needs."

The report also found that despite recent financial struggles related to education funding, most states (41) are providing funding to maintain their data systems, and almost all (46) are creating public reports on school systems and certain groups of students.

"What really continues to surprise us is that in just a few short years, these systems really just came online by and large … in the last five or six years," says Paige Kowalski, the DQC's director of state policy and advocacy.

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Linking such data helps educators, principals, and parents understand where students go after high school, and how well they do once they get to college, Kowalski says. In 2011, only 38 states linked K-12 and postsecondary data, compared with 44 in 2013.

"If you went back four years ago, we were still trying to help people understand why you would link your K-12 and higher (education) data," Kowalski says. "Don't your principals want to know – where are their kids going and are they successful when they get there? Or are you giving them a 4.0 and then they go take remedial math in college?"

Still, some states have a long way to go.

States such as Alabama, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota, for example, have achieved no more than three of the DQC's action items, while the average number of actions achieved in 2013 was 6.6.

Additionally, some say states need to further expand how they share teacher performance data. Currently, just 17 states share that data with in-state teacher preparation programs, but only six make that available to the public, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.

"We hope other states follow the lead of these six, since seeing thee link between teacher prep programs and graduates' success in the classroom is as valuable for prospective teachers and hiring school districts as it is to teacher prep programs," the NCTQ said in a statement.

And although most states (44) have linked K-12 and postsecondary data, most cannot determine if their students have been "adequately prepared for the workforce," the report says, because only 19 have linked their K-12 and workforce data, an increase from the 11 that did so in 2009.

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