I often get asked, “What is the state role around data?”
My go-to answer is that, in general, the role of the state is to ensure that all stakeholders have timely access to high-quality, relevant, and actionable information about their children, schools, and districts. But this answer can be a little broad and jargon-y. For specific answers, we need to unpack it. What does timely mean? What data are relevant? Which stakeholders need data? Who should provide which data? Who ensures high quality? How is the state role different from the district role?
To answer these questions, we need to shift our focus from building systems to supporting people—that is, data consumers. We have to understand the needs of parents, for example, before we can determine which entity can best meet each need, from prekindergarten to higher education. In order to meet these data consumer needs, it is clear that the state should have certain unique roles:
- Equalizing districts’ varying ability to build and use data systems and tools by providing districts access to tools that complement and enhance their own data capacity.
- Linking individual students’ data across districts and sectors—from K–12 to postsecondary to the workforce, for example—to provide a clearer picture of student success as they move through education settings, and inform decisionmaking based on that information.
- Developing analytics such as growth measures, and predictive tools that move data from a snapshot of a moment in time to a comprehensive look of students’ past and future success, and how they can be expected to perform going forward.
- Setting state policies to support good data use (teacher licensure policies supporting data literacy, P–20 data governing boards, etc.).
Now let’s go back to the parent example. A parent doesn’t care where the data they need to make decisions comes from. They don’t care if what they’re looking at came from a district data system or a state data system. What they do care about is that the information is useful. If they’re choosing a high school, they need high school graduation rates that reflect the reality that students change schools and districts throughout the year. They also care about that school’s postsecondary enrollment and remediation data. District data systems alone cannot provide this information: the state has to fill in these critical information gaps.
To that end, states have stepped up to build systems to meet this growing demand for information. There are some things that only the state can do; however, to truly meet stakeholder needs, districts and states must collaborate to unpack the work ahead and determine the role that each must play in our collective quest for effective data use. State-district collaboration is the best way to ensure that stakeholders—from parents to legislators—have access to the useful data they need.
Whoever you are—a parent, a state policymaker, a district leader—ask yourself, do the data I have access to meet my needs? Has anyone ever asked you what your needs are? If not, it may be time to start demanding that they do.