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So What Does a Quality Longitudinal Data System Look Like?

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Over the next few weeks, we’re going to take a look at policy in action in each of our 6 recommendation areas. Up first: the need to develop a longitudinal data system to drive accountability and decision-making.

We need a quality, statewide data system in Connecticut. Last month, when we released our 2013 Policy Progress Report, one of its critical findings was that without one, Connecticut is going to have a hard time effectively implementing reforms and knowing if they’ve truly been successful. A meaningful statewide system would allow us to track the achievement of every student in Connecticut from pre-K through college, compile a variety of types of information (not just CMT/CAPT scores), tease out trends based on comparable information, and set state policies accordingly.

That’s why the Data Quality Campaign has identified 10 “State Actions” as a roadmap for states to develop quality longitudinal data systems. Every year, they publish a report on the progress being made in this area across the nation. Their 2012 report reveals that, although no state has completed all 10 “actions” yet, some are well on their way! With many actions completed so far, Connecticut is making solid progress, but there’s still a lot of work to do.

(1) Link Early Childhood, K-12, Postsecondary, Workforce, and Educator Data Systems. If we aren’t linking these data systems, then we aren’t thinking about education holistically. Linking these systems together will help educators and policymakers monitor whether students, schools, and districts are meeting expectations of college- and career-readiness. A unified system would also be able to tell whether students are receiving the services and interventions they need and whether our education system is producing young adults who are prepared with the skills they need.

Louisiana, for example, has linked its Student Information System to data on teachers and classes since 2008. This allows the state to produce reports about class sizes and content, as well as to monitor teacher effectiveness. Interestingly, Louisiana has also developed a Student Transcript System, which allows its department of education to collect district- and school-level data on statewide core curriculum requirements. This information is shared across districts when students transfer between them.

(2) Provide Timely Access to Useable Data. Simply collecting information isn’t enough. For it to be useable, the right people must have access to the right information in a format that is user-friendly and that gives results quickly.

In Connecticut, we do provide aggregate data to our teachers and leaders, but we have not made different levels of information available to different stakeholders. Teachers, for instance, need data about individual students if they are going to be able to use it to develop personalized learning plans for their students. Similarly, parents need access to their children’s longitudinal data.

As Nebraska considers revamping its data systems, one senior administrator has observed, “Essentially, the problem that exists [currently] is not being able to provide quick, real-time information to teachers.” Indeed, Nebraska is planning to develop dashboards that provide real-time info and customizable reports so that teachers, principals, and parents will know exactly where their students stand. They’re attempting to make quality information useful.

(3) Train Educators to Access and Use Data Effectively. A quality longitudinal data system has a two-pronged purpose: (1) to track long-term trends; and (2) to promote date-driven learning and decision-making. Even a well-developed data system can’t accomplish the latter goal of informing classroom instruction if we don’t train educators to use it properly.

For CT to get this right, we will need to train teachers and principals in how to use data to tailor classroom instruction and school policies.

Arkansas–which arguably has one of the best longitudinal data systems in the country—takes this seriously enough to keep a training calendar directly on its data center page.

You can check out the Arkansas Department of Education’s state-run data center here! It is sophisticated, interactive, easy to use, and has access that is differentiated by personnel level.

Now that’s something that CT can aspire to!