States at a Loss on How to Use Education Data They Collect

In the past several years, many states have extensively invested in building up systems to collect and analyze substantial amounts of education-related data. Everything from student performance to teacher assessment is collected, sifted and stored, yet while states have made impressive strides in using the collected data to inform education policy, according to the Data Quality Campaign, they have yet to make serious progress in training teachers and parents in how to use the information effectively to help students learn.

Aimee Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, commends states for building robust infrastructure to support their data gathering efforts, yet the next step could prove the more difficult one – creating an environment where education stakeholders are comfortable using the data and are actually learning from it.

 “State policymakers must actively support a culture in which all education stakeholders are actually using and learning from this crucial information to improve student achievement — not just using data for shame and blame.”

In their annual state-by-state analysis of data gathering efforts – Data for Action 2012 – the DQC provides several suggestions on how the rich datasets collected by states could be used to improve the quality of their education systems. One recommendation points out that while legislatures provide the state with the authority to collect information, they frequently fail to provide them with permission to share this information with those who need access to it most. People in the best position to assure that students remain on track to graduate and prepare to enter colleges and universities are denied tools to determine that it is so.

In many cases, parents are also denied access to reports produced based on analysis of the collected education-related information. Furthermore, even when parents can take a look at the data, it isn’t presented in a way that would make sense to them. Reports are published without taking into account the needs of their intended audience.

 States are increasingly providing training to help stakeholders use data but have not done enough to build the capacity of all education stakeholders to effectively use data, especially teachers.

But not every state is behind in making the leap from collecting information to deploying it effectively. Kentucky, for one, provides each high school with information about how their graduates are performing in college. This data allows schools to identify and correct academic shortfalls and has already led to higher college enrollment rates and a reduction in the number of students requiring remediation upon entering college.

Delaware has implemented 9 of the 10 State Actions by leveraging P–20W leadership, state policy, federal opportunities and resources and can now use data to answer important policy questions like which students enroll in postsecondary institutions and whether they get jobs in the field in which they were trained. Maine collaborated with stakeholders from critical agencies to build the policy, support and infrastructure to link data systems across the P–20W pipeline, which ensured that data collection, sharing and use are aligned with the state’s broader policy priorities aimed at improving student outcomes.