Make Data Work for All Students

Everyone who supports students should have the right data in the right format at the right time to make decisions so that students excel. For this vision to become a reality, data must be transformed from a tool of compliance to one that empowers people and fuels continuous improvement. This is a set of recommendations for policymakers and leaders at all levels to achieve this transformation and make data work for students.

Four Policy Priorities to Make Data Work for Students

Be clear about what students must achieve and have the data to ensure that all students are on track to succeed.

State policymakers should

  • develop a set of policy and practice questions that will set the priorities for state action and determine the information needed to answer those questions;
  • link and govern data across all agencies critical to student success, from early childhood and K–12 to postsecondary and the workforce, including other state agencies that support students (e.g., child welfare); and
  • develop, calculate, and share indicators based on longitudinal data, in addition to measures based on annual statewide assessments, that demonstrate progress toward stated goals.

What Is Different When States Measure What Matters?

Currently data has a bad reputation and often is not useful to educators and families. It is seen as synonymous with test scores, and it has primarily been used to punish educators rather than support student learning. But data use is about much more than accountability and compliance to a government agency. It is about meeting people’s needs. Aligning data systems and indicators to critical policy and practice questions makes data relevant and valuable to everyone with a stake in education. States that do this alignment are viewed as service providers supporting continuous improvement, not mere compliance bodies. After states take these steps, they will see more demand for useful data from stakeholders such as parents and state policymakers.

Provide teachers and leaders the flexibility, training, and support they need to answer their questions and take action.

State policymakers should

  • use the bully pulpit and allocate resources (people, time, money, and technology) to prioritize using data to inform decision-making at the state level;
  • ensure that leaders responsible for student outcomes have the feedback data they need from other systems to effectively serve students;
  • support local education agencies (based on their unique capacity and needs) by providing the flexibility to use people, time, money, and technology to prioritize data use to inform action and improve outcomes; and
  • enact the necessary policies, practices, and conditions to ensure that every educator can use data effectively.

What Is Different When States Make Data Use Possible?

Few teachers support the current uses of data because they are rarely given the tools and training to make data work for them and their students. Instead, data use is seen as a mandate from administrators and policymakers, who themselves are not supported in turning data into useful information to make decisions. Everyone needs training, time, and tools to access and use data effectively. When state policy focuses on creating a culture that supports people using data for improvement—and builds the conditions and capacity to sustain this culture—students will benefit.

Ensure that every community understands how its schools and students are doing, why data is valuable, and how it is protected and used.

State policymakers should

  • provide the public timely, high-quality, relevant, and easy-to-find data;
  • communicate the value of data to support student learning; and
  • communicate the types of data the state collects and how the data is protected.

What Is Different When States Are Transparent and Earn Trust?

The existing culture of compliance in education has stifled data use for transparency, support, and empowerment. Yet no one will use data if they do not trust it and find it useful. Citizens must be empowered with quality information to act in their communities and ensure all students’ needs are met—and to hold policymakers and public agencies accountable for results. The public also deserves to know what data is collected, how it is used to support students, and how it is protected. Clear, steady communication about data will foster public understanding and trust in the state as a good steward of student information.

Provide teachers and parents timely information on their students and make sure it is kept safe.

State policymakers should

  • ensure that those closest to students have individual access to student-level data that is tailored to their needs and presented in context; and
  • intentionally design and implement policies and practices to protect the privacy and confidentiality of student and teacher data and ensure that systems are secure.

What Is Different When States Guarantee Access and Protect Privacy?

Currently those closest to students—especially parents—are not getting enough value from the student data that is collected. But students will not be successful unless the individuals closest to them have timely, tailored access to information that answers their questions. When that information is timely and useful, everyone can better support student learning. States must ensure that people who need access to data have it—and that those with no business seeing confidential personal information are kept away from it. (Policies must evolve as technology evolves to ensure this privacy.)