What’s Working: Four Ways Policymakers Can Use Data to Improve Schools
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Eva Harder and Skylar Whitman
This article is part of the “What’s Working” series, which highlights promising practices for helping to close the graduation gap in communities and states across the country.
While states have made progress prioritizing the use of data in education, policymakers should do more to ensure it helps all students be successful, says a new report released by the Data Quality Campaign.
Along with spotlighting states that can serve as examples to the rest of the country, Time to Act 2017: Put Data in the Hands of the People challenges leaders in education agencies, state boards, legislatures, and governors to prioritize the effective use of data in the following four ways:
1. Measure What Matters: Be clear about what students must achieve and have the data to ensure that all students are on track to succeed.
While states have prioritized data, the data they collect does not always reflect the needs of all children. For example, only six states include information about homeless students on their report cards. Only one state includes information about students in foster care.
Time to Act urges states to create governance bodies that ensure diverse perspectives are represented, such as those of English learners, students with disabilities, rural students, gifted and talented students, and low-income students.
State spotlight: Washington connects data across sectors though its Education Research and Data Center (ERDC), an education data warehouse that “links data from the state’s early learning, K-12, postsecondary, and workforce sectors.”
The governance body includes agency leaders, district representatives, and data users that help the state “determine what data to collect, what research to conduct, and how to keep the information secure.”
2. Make Data Use Possible: Provide teachers and leaders the flexibility, training, and support they need.
While teachers want to use data to inform their teaching, the report says they don’t always have the time. More than 50 percent of teachers say they have no time during school to review data and 21 percent state they lack training in using data to support teaching and learning.
State spotlight: In Delaware, administrators and teachers can access real-time data that shows which students are on track for college as well as their progress in applying to school. It also includes student completion rates for college applications and student aid applications, and both teachers and counselors have the data they need to work with individual students.
3. Be Transparent and Earn Trust: Ensure that every community understands how its schools and students are doing, why data is valuable, and how it is protected and used.
Data should be easy to understand and widely available, and states have a duty to share meaningful information with the public. However, Time to Act reports that what states do share is often outdated, difficult to understand, or hard to find, which can leave people frustrated and unsure of what information to trust.
“Only 24 percent of parents nationally say they have used a state education agency website to find out how well their local high schools prepare students for college or the workforce,” according to the report. “While 45 states publish postsecondary enrollment data, only 17 include that information on school-level report cards, where other school performance information can be found.”
State spotlight: West Virginia has its own privacy policies in place to protect student data, including the creation of an engaging comic book-themed newsletter and informational meetings with the media, which has built a statewide foundation of trust.
4. Guarantee Access and Protect Privacy: Provide teachers and parents timely information on their students and make sure it is kept safe.
Accessible yet secure data is key to student success. But nationwide, only 36 percent of public school parents strongly agree they have easy access to all the information they need to ensure their child gets a great education. The report states that parents and educators want and need student data, but too few states actually provide full access to students’ progress over time.
State spotlight: Georgia created a Statewide Longitudinal Data System that gives educators and parents secure access to state and district education data in the same place. In 2015, the state passed one of the nation’s most robust data privacy laws, which safeguards students’ data without limiting the ability to use information to improve student achievement.
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