Data Systems


Data Systems
Link statewide data systems from student- to state-level and from early grades through college and workforce — and protect the privacy of the data.

What is the issue and why is it important?

Education data elements are only as good as their accuracy, and the availability of the data to those who need them to make informed decisions to improve student success.

Additionally, the overall data system must be available to K-20 decision makers in a secure manner that protects the privacy of students. All educational entities collect and store vast amounts of education data elements from the student to the state level. However, in most cases these data are not stored in a single data system; they are linked in a complex network of systems that collect particular data elements from schools, districts, colleges and universities. The intent of collecting the data is to understand what works in education and what does not. The question ultimately is: how does a state turn these widely distributed data elements into a resource that can be used and accessed by practitioners, policy-makers and education stakeholders? The real value of the data lies in analyzing and making sense of them, not in gathering and storing them.

States are collecting more data elements than ever. With that increase has come two compelling expectations: privacy and personalization. Federal law requires the privacy of student and teacher data. At the same time, with the capabilities that data provides, personalized learning is easier. Tailoring instruction to how a student learns, or professional development to a teacher’s needs, can improve outcomes.

For years, states were hindered in sharing data, even among agencies within their own states. Recent changes in federal privacy laws — specifically the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) — have struck a balance between protecting the privacy and security of student information while expanding the effective use of data.

What is the status in SREB states?

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included a provision that any state accepting federal funds under the act must establish a statewide longitudinal data system, which states have done. However, the functionality and usefulness of those data systems differ by state.

The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) identified 10 State Actions to Ensure Effective Data Use and 10 Essential Elements of Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems to “provide a roadmap for state policymakers to ensure that quality data are not only collected but also used by education stakeholders.” To be useful, the data from pre-K through postsecondary education and beyond must be accessible.

Every SREB state — except Oklahoma and South Carolina — has implemented all 10 Essential Elements. Currently, Arkansas and Delaware are the only states in the nation that have successfully implemented all 10 State Actions. 

The America COMPETES Act of 2007 outlines 12 elements that a state education data system must have, including the ability to communicate with higher education data systems. According to DQC, 12 SREB states (Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia) have respectively linked their early childhood, K-12 and postsecondary data systems. Mississippi, South Carolina and West Virginia have respectively linked their K-12 and postsecondary data systems.

The act also lists three functions that a state education data system must have, including the ability to identify factors that contribute to the need for remedial education at the postsecondary level; the ability to identify factors that increase the number of low-income and minority students academically prepared for postsecondary education; and the use of the data to better align state content standards and curricula with postsecondary education and work force needs.

In addition, Texas started identifying the skills necessary for certain jobs and then relating those to postsecondary degrees.

What if SREB states do not address or make adequate progress on this issue?

Effective data use is the basis for good decision-making, and the analysis is important too; but it is also about the correct gathering and storage of the data. States have already made huge investments over the last decade in designing systems to collect and store data. The payoff will be realized as states put the data to work.

By linking P-16 data systems with work force or department of labor systems, states can identify skills gaps in workers, relate employment data directly to the mission of higher-education institutions, and better identify high-demand fields.

What measurements can SREB states use to assess progress?

States can track how extensively data are analyzed and how effectively the resulting knowledge is used to improve education. Key efforts can include:

  • Collection and comparison of data/metrics among states
  • Survey of the institutional research offices at postsecondary institutions about how effectively they analyze data to support better decision-making
  • Submission of data to data systems by agency
  • Collaboration among schools, higher education and work force
  • Assessment of strategic initiatives on how they are grounded in data analysis
  • Review of policy reports to determine how data contributed to conclusions

In the Challenge to Lead 2020 goals for education, SREB laid out essential policies that states need to improve performance to achieve each goal. One of those essential policies is to develop and maintain education data systems that link data on students, teachers and schools from state education and related agencies and then ensure education leaders use the data to inform policy decisions. Such systems and analysis can help achieve outcome measures for each goal that include:

  • A higher percentage of children that meet targets for school readiness based on state standards each year
  • The percentages of fourth-graders and eighth-graders who score at or above the Proficient level on National Assessment of Educational Progress in reading, math and science that increase above national averages
  • The increasing enrollment of recent high school graduates into postsecondary education
  • Increasing the college graduation rate
  • Improving employment outcomes

Collecting and analyzing data effectively will also help states achieve the policy recommendations laid out in SREB’s No Time to Waste: Policy Recommendations for Increasing College Completion. SREB state policies should set measures that:

  • Monitor the state and each of its institutions and systems by the numbers of degrees awarded (increases in degrees compared with the base year) and graduation rates.
  • Expand certificate and degree data and tracking systems to include the performance of full- and part-time students, returning adults, first-generation students, transfers and veterans; and by age, income level, racial/ethnic group, the numbers of degrees awarded relative to full-time-equivalent enrollment,
  • Track institutional spending of state support targeted to meet degree-completion goals and require transparent reporting for resource management

Using these outcome measures, states can determine if the data they are collecting are valuable and/or if the method they are using to evaluate the data is effective.

What are some next steps SREB states can take?

  • Define a research agenda, including identifying what questions they want to answer using the data. Identifying the questions will allow states to better identify the data that will help them answer these questions.
  • Support a culture of data analysis by keeping it front and center in policy and strategy discussions.
  • Promote policies that protect privacy but that also promote transparency and effective use of the data.
  • Establish standards for data sharing among the appropriate agencies within the state, from pre-K to workforce.
  • Adopt strategies to ensure that the appropriate technology and staff are in place to securely collect and store data, make them accessible, refresh them routinely, and transform them into information that drives effective policy decisions.
  • Participate in regional and national efforts related to data collection and analytics.
  • Make the data secure and accessible in a user-friendly manner.