Blog: The Educated Reporter

States Ramping Up Student Data Systems

Are parents who withdraw their children from standardized tests similar to those who choose not to vaccinate their kids?

A director of an advocacy group that favors more effective use of data in the nation’s schools made the comparison while touting the organization’s new report tracking how well school systems use data tools to improve student outcomes.

“If you choose not to vaccinate your kid, you’re not only hurting, possibly hurting your own kid, but in addition you may be, by opting out [of testing], being at risk for the whole system and causing the whole system to spend more money, time and energy on something,” said Aimee Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, during a press call with reporters.

The comments came on the tail end of Guidera’s remarks about the reliability of student data systems if enough parents request that their children not be tested on standardized tests. “If parents begin to opt their kids out of taking assessments,” Guidera says, “it is damaging to that individual child because all of a sudden the ability of that teacher to tailor and personalize learning for that child, it’s not completely impossible, but you just made that job a lot harder for that teacher, who now needs to go tracking things independently by paper and pencil … instead of having all this incredible information on a dashboard.”

States are slowly finding ways to use the data they collect to improve student outcomes, the national report argues. In recent years, more states have been linking details like past test scores, demographics and school records to individual student records, according to self-reported information that Data Quality Campaign verifies.

Some of the survey’s findings:

  • Teachers in 35 states have access to data about the students in their classroom, which can help them tailor instruction to meet their student’s needs, an increase from 28 states in 2011.

  • Seventeen states share information about how teachers perform with teacher colleges and programs from which they graduated. The data campaign says the practice is meant to improve the quality of training these teaching programs provide to future graduates. Six states had such systems in 2011.

  • Thirty-one states have early warning reports that identify students who are at risk of academic failure or dropping out of school so educators can intervene before it is too late. That’s an increase from 18 states in 2011 and from 12 states in 2009.

  • Fourteen states provide parents access to their own children’s data that tracks progress over time, presenting the information using what the organization calls “secure portals or websites.” The report adds: “While parents receive annual report cards, this once-a-year snapshot does not tell families how their children are doing over time or if they are on track for college or a job. Dashboards can provide parents with a broader array of information and give parents access to information when they need it.”

The stimulus package in 2009 and the Race to the Top grants helped supercharge the buildup of these data systems by mandating states that received the federal dollars to improve the quality of the information they keep on students. Other federal money comes from a competitive grant headed by the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. Since 2005 the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems grant program has distributed roughly $600 million dollars — $250 million of which came from the stimulus act — to 47 states and the District of Columbia between 2005 and 2012.

The state data systems have their limitations. Few systems are able to monitor how students who went through their K-12 and college programs in one state are faring as employees in another state. Tracking students who learn and work in the same isn’t much easier: So far 19 states have linked student K-12 and workforce data.

Image source: Data Quality Campaign

What Other Outlets Wrote

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “In Pennsylvania, it’s called the PAsecure ID.

“It’s a unique identifier assigned to students so that data can be tracked and studied yet students can remain anonymous.

“All K-12 public school students have had such a number since 2006-07. Students enrolled in community colleges and the state System of Higher Education have had one since 2008-09. And children receiving publicly funded pre-kindergarten services got one in the 2010-11 school year.”

Stateline: “The report also highlights challenges for schools and states handling student data, such as the need to ensure privacy. Oklahoma, for example, passed legislation this year establishing safeguards around the collection and use of student data.

“Elsewhere around the country, several states that had signed up to work with inBloom, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that collects and stores student data for school districts, have since backed off over security concerns. In New York, parents are suing to stop the state education department from working with inBloom.”

Oregonian: “Oregon is particularly ahead of the curve at making sure parents get information about whether their child is on track toward graduating ready for college, the group said.Starting this school year, every parent of an Oregon student will be sent a report clearly showing where the child stands compared to grade-level standards in eight subjects, from English, math and science to P.E. and the arts.

“‘Empowering parents with the right data at the right time helps ensure that students will graduate on time and prepared for college and careers,’ said Aimee Guidera, executive director of the data advocacy group.”

Education Week: “But the Data Quality Campaign’s annual report, released Tuesday, also found that just 14 states currently offer parents access to data that track their own children’s progress over time, and only nine states were deemed to provide appropriate access to students’ data while also effectively protecting their privacy. In a conference call with reporters, executive director Aimee Guidera highlighted both issues as key challenges, especially given growing concerns from parents and advocates that the proliferation of student data is threatening children’s privacy.”

WDEL: ”Some teachers worry about how data could be used against them in evaluations, but Guidera says it shouldn’t be that way. 

“‘Using it in a way that is building trust in it and building a sense that this is good information for teachers to use if they want to use it rather than using it as a hammer to knock them over the head and shame and embarrass them,’ she says.”


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