States make progress on data systems

States are making progress in building longitudinal data systems to track students’ academic growth over time, and now they must use the information available to them through these systems to raise student achievement, a new report says.

Six states report having all 10 elements of a comprehensive data system that can track student progress from preschool through college, and 48 states have at least half these elements in place, according to the third annual report from the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), a national partnership to improve the quality, accessibility, and use of data in education.
Longitudinal data — data gathered on the same students from year to year — make it possible to follow individual students’ academic growth, determine the value of specific programs, and identify consistently high-performing schools and systems, the organization says.
Key findings from the group’s 2008 survey of all 50 states and the District of Columbia include:

• In 2005, no state reported having all 10 essential elements of a robust state longitudinal data system; this year, six states do (Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, and Utah).
• 47 states plan to have eight or more of the 10 elements in place within three years.
• 42 states (up from 14 in 2005) say they have the data systems necessary to calculate the National Governors Association’s longitudinal graduation rate. All states except one will report this rate by 2010-11.
"The Data Quality Campaign has brought focus to the benefits of good data systems," U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said. "Today, thanks in part to the DQC, 42 states have already done the hard work necessary to have systems in place to calculate a more accurate and reliable graduation rate, and almost every other state is on track to have systems developed by 2011. Information is a powerful motivator for change, and I’m pleased that these states have put together systems that will empower parents and policy makers throughout the country to work to reverse low graduation rates."
Despite their progress, states have a lot of work left to meet the DQC’s data-system goals, the report said — particularly on certain elements:

• Only 21 states have a teacher identifier system with the ability to match teachers to specific students; another 13 states plan to have this element by 2012, but 17 states report no plans to implement such a system.
• Only 17 states collect student-level course completion and transcript information, and at least nine states have no plans to do so.
• 29 states have the ability to collect college-readiness test scores, but at least 12 states have no plans to implement this element.
States say it’s not a lack of technological know-how that is keeping them from doing this work; instead, the greatest barrier to implementing these elements is the lack of political will or resources.
"We need to transform our view of data in education and realize that high-quality, student-level data presents a realistic — though not always pretty — picture of achievement in our schools," said Arkansas Commissioner Ken James, incoming president of the Council of Chief State School Officers. "Thanks to the comprehensive statewide data system we have built in Arkansas, the information the state provides can help shape our decisions to ensure that every student leaves high school prepared for the challenges of our increasingly demanding economy."

While applauding the progress of states to date, DQC leaders called on states to help policy makers, educators, and other stakeholders make better use of the available data to improve student achievement. For instance, the group said, 44 states have the capacity to track preschool children into kindergarten, and 28 can follow high school graduates into college—but it’s not clear whether states are actually using this information to improve performance. If the data show, for instance, that certain groups or individual students are off track as early as the third grade, then schools can adjust their instruction to help these students catch up.
"Principals and their teachers need professional development to build their capacity to use these new sources of data to improve student achievement and sustain the progress made," says Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Here are DQC’s "10 Essential Elements of Longitudinal Data Systems" — and states’ progress toward meeting them so far:
1. A unique statewide student identifier that connects student data across key databases through multiple years (48 states report having this element, up from 36 in 2005);
2. Student-level enrollment, demographic, and program participation information (49, up from 38 in 2005);
3. The ability to match individual students’ test records from year to year to measure academic growth (48, up from 32 in 2005);
4. Information on untested students and the reasons they were not tested (41, up from 25 in 2005);
5. A teacher identification system with the ability to match teachers to students (21, up from 13 in 2005);
6. Student-level transcript information, including information on courses completed and grades earned (17, up from 7 in 2005);
7. Student-level college-readiness test scores (29, up from 7 in 2005);
8. Student-level graduation and dropout data (50, up from 34 in 2005);
9. The ability to match student records between the K-12 and postsecondary education systems (28, up from 12 in 2005); and
10. A state audit system assessing data quality, validity, and reliability (45, up from 19 in 2005).

Data Quality Campaign

"Measuring What Matters": Year Three report