The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) could easily declare victory. Since its founding in 2005, the majority of states have made tremendous progress implementing the 10 Essential Elements of Statewide Data Systems. And those that lag behind, through their acceptance of State Fiscal Stabilization Fund stimulus money, have committed to do so. Kudos to DQC for recognizing that despite these essential foundational efforts, the real work remains.
The whole point of collecting all of this information — and DQC is clear that they mean much more than just test scores — is to use it to inform inquiry, human judgment, and decision-making. DQC’s new report, Data for Action 2011, shows that states still struggle to actually use this information effectively.
In addition to state-by-state results, the report outlines four key issues for states to overcome:
- Turf: The current culture and structures in education do not support working across traditional boundaries.
- Trust: Skepticism about the quality and use of data persists because data previously were primarily used as a hammer to punish rather than a flashlight to illuminate and inform continuous improvement.
- Technical Issues: Technical issues remain; however, solutions are emerging and require the leadership and political will to implement them.
- Time: Competing priorities and scarce resources present challenges to continuing to allocate adequate time to building and using state longitudinal data systems.
Of the 10 state actions that DQC surveys, states are having the most trouble with two that deal directly with getting information into the hands of educators and families:
- Action 5: Implement systems to provide all stakeholders with timely access to the information they need while protecting student privacy, and
- Action 9: Implement policies and promote practices, including professional development and credentialing, to ensure that educators know how to access, analyze and use data appropriately.
These point to a “last mile problem” with regards to data use. First, states have too often focused on their own administrative needs, rather than on educators’ needs. Second, if much of the rhetoric around data use is its potential to improve instruction, then much of the relevant data is at a local level — and may actually differ across schools. States have to find ways to not only improve the capacity of districts and schools, but do so in a way that still enables local flexibility. While the work of building data systems was often relegated to a technical team in the state capitol, there’s no way to effectively use data systems without much more coordination and deep engagement, not only within and across state agencies, but also with the districts, schools, educators, and families that actually need to use the data.