It’s Time to Make Data Work for All Students

It’s Time to Make Data Work for All Students

When students, parents, educators, and policymakers have the right information to make decisions, students excel. What a powerful message! We are on the cusp of a new era of data use in education, one in which data empowers everyone who works with students with information that can help those students thrive.

Today the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) releases Time to Act: Making Data Work for Students, a bold new vision for using data in service of student learning. Because if data is not working for students, it’s not working.

For 10 years DQC has focused on building high-quality statewide education data systems and on using data to inform continuous improvement. Creating this foundation was critical, and yet I can tell you after so many years in this job that data by itself doesn’t change a thing in the life of a child. Data is only useful when it’s meeting the information needs of the people working to support students and their academic success. Students must be at the center of every conversation about data in education policy. Our new vision of data use—and newly redesigned website supporting it—take this idea as foundational.

When data is working for students, it has tremendous potential to improve outcomes for them. Just think about how different a parent-teacher conference could be if we changed the role of data in it. I remember waiting for my parents to come home and show me a single column of six letter grades and hear what the teacher said about my progress and what I needed to work on. Information flowed one way, at one time a year.

What a difference I see now that I’m a parent, witnessing my daughters’ school embrace data as a tool for continuous improvement! I have access to multiple measures of my kids’ academic progress on a daily basis, and my children present their own data—not just grades and test scores, but reflections—to me as part of a student-parent-teacher conference. We now have data that can help my daughters and every child in this country stay on track for success, and that can help the people who care about students open doors for them.

But this isn’t currently happening for too many of our children. Why not? Because data is being used as a hammer, to shame and blame educators, and not as a flashlight. To use data as a flashlight—to use it to serve our children—we need to change the prevailing culture in education of compliance and mistrust around data. This culture doesn’t serve students; it hurts them. There are so many “if I had only known” stories that epitomize our failure to give individuals information they needed when it could’ve made a difference to student.

This needs to change, and it’s the reason DQC has developed a set of recommendations to guide states to create a culture that values and uses data to illuminate, empower, and improve. We believe that states must:

  • Measure What Matters: Be clear about what students must achieve and have the data to ensure that all students are on track to succeed.
  • Make Data Use Possible: Provide teachers and leaders the flexibility, training, and support they need to answer their questions and take action.
  • Be Transparent and Earn Trust: Ensure that every community understands how its schools and students are doing, why data is valuable, and how it is protected and used.
  • Guarantee Access and Protect Privacy: Provide teachers and parents timely information on their students and make sure it’s kept safe.

If states, districts, and federal policymakers can make these priorities central to their education data culture, they will begin to use data as a flashlight.

One of my favorite lines goes, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” For the first time in our history, we have the information to help light that fire and keep it burning in every child. We must empower those closest to students with the right data in the right format at the right time, and the training and context to use it well, to help students excel. It is time to act and make data work for all of our students.