People need access to data to navigate successful journeys through their education and careers. In order to ensure individuals, the public, and policymakers alike have the information they need to make decisions, states must take steps to build robust statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDSs) that connect individual-level data over time across early education, K–12, postsecondary, and workforce.
Certain kinds of research and policy questions can only be answered by longitudinal data. This is especially true of questions about skills-based education and workforce practices. Skills-based education allows students to learn through hands-on practice and real-world application and skills-based hiring prioritizes choosing a candidate based on their verified skills rather than focusing on their formal education. Skills-based approaches to education, hiring, and recruiting can make pathways to high-quality careers more diverse and broadly accessible to students and jobseekers, but they require equitable access to aligned data across the P–20W spectrum.
In the Data Quality Campaign’s (DQC) work with states, we’ve consistently heard that one of the hardest parts about building effective data systems is getting leaders and agency heads from across the state to collaborate to overcome the challenges of disconnected and siloed data. In an effort to address that challenge, the National Governors Association has been working with several states seeking to optimize their SLDSs to meet data and evaluation needs—particularly related to postsecondary and the workforce—through the State Longitudinal Data Ecosystem (SLDE). That work has uncovered many insights, including the importance of cross-agency governance to ensure that the state’s data sharing, analysis, research, and access priorities aren’t beholden to the preferences of a single agency, agenda, or actor. We heard from participating states about how state leaders are working to improve their data systems and public tools to support students and jobseekers. And we learned more about efforts in several states to better connect postsecondary and workforce data in order to provide resources to help individuals navigate skills-based education and career journeys, such as the work Arkansas is doing to support data-driven decisionmaking.
As skills-based education and hiring become more prevalent, state leaders must support data users by developing interactive tools that:
- Enable individuals to access information to make personal decisions;
- Provide the public with transparent information about the impact of public investments; and
- Ensure that policymakers at all levels can answer questions to develop education and workforce policies.
One example of a tool that states can provide to improve access to skills data is Learning and Employment Records (LERs), which are easily accessible digital records of people’s skills, educational experiences, and work histories.
DQC believes that all individuals deserve the benefit of data that supports them along their education and career journeys. Our new vision to transform state data systems lays out 10 policy and practice recommendations for states seeking to provide tailored access to information—like skills data—to drive student success, economic mobility, and systemic change across the P–20W spectrum.
- Codify cross-agency data governance in state law: Mandated leadership-level, cross-agency data governance is the only way to ensure transparency and accountability for decisions about SLDS data collection, security, and access.
- Establish an independent entity to administer the state’s SLDS: An autonomous data center, governed by the cross-agency governance body, is necessary to ensure that the state’s data sharing, analysis, research, and access priorities aren’t beholden to the preferences and constraints of a specific agency, agenda, or actor.
- Engage the public to prioritize data access needs and seek continual feedback: Data users such as community members, school leaders, college administrators, and employers should have a say in how the state prioritizes the substantial undertaking of providing access to cross-sector data, and state leaders must deliberately build in multiple opportunities for the public to play a substantive role in shaping SLDS access priorities.
- Map existing assets to identify system strengths and limits: Changing an SLDS to enable access must start with an asset map of the state’s existing technology, tools, data, funding, staff, legal supports, and other assets and policies that could help or hinder efforts to serve the data needs of individuals, the public, and policymakers.
- Fund SLDSs and the source systems that contribute data to them: State leaders should use their asset map to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their early childhood data, K–12, postsecondary, and workforce systems, as well as relevant systems of other state agencies that serve people on their education and workforce journeys (e.g., public benefits systems, juvenile justice).
- Develop legal and privacy frameworks to enable and guide state data efforts: Agency leaders and attorneys need to create a shared understanding of how the state interprets and implements state and federal laws in service of data sharing and access.
- Develop and act on rollout plans when building data access: States must work with agency leaders, local leaders, community advocates, and other trusted intermediaries to help people understand how to use and benefit from state data tools and resources.
- Invest in the talent and human capacity needed to modernize SLDSs toward access: SLDS centers must be supported with analytical, privacy and security, legal, and technical expertise. State leaders must invest in roles like data scientist as well as leadership-level data management roles like chief data officers and chief information officers who can align technical and human resources in support of expanded data access.
- Center privacy: State leaders must create, implement, and update privacy policies; identify and safeguard against cybersecurity challenges; staff privacy leadership roles such as a chief privacy officer; establish ethical data use practices; and provide transparency into state data policies and practices.
- Support local leaders in building their own capacity to use data: States must help data users untie their own knots, whether through investing in technology or internet infrastructure at the local level or providing needed professional development on how to use data about pathways from education to work.
As we learned from SLDE state partners, no one state leader can tackle these recommendations alone. Cross-agency data governance is the only way to ensure transparency and accountability for decisions about SLDS data collection, security, and access. Making this vision a reality will require collaboration between governors, agency leaders, legislatures, and other leaders across the state—like the work done by the SLDE state teams—to come together to identify challenges and opportunities to ensure meaningful data access for all users. But with effective leadership, every state can take action now on these policy and practice changes to ensure their SLDSs can meet people’s data access needs in a skills-based world.