Oct 31 2006

The Importance of Maintaining a Longitudinal Approach to Data Systems

Schools must find the most cost-effective solution to prepare students for college and the workforce of the 21st century.

Today, our nation is falling short of its goal to ensure that all students are completing high school ready for the life ahead of them and prepared for the 21st century workforce.

Students in the United States must be prepared to enter a vastly different job market. Eighty percent of the fastest-growing jobs will require at least some postsecondary education.

Are America’s students ready? A 2003 study by Manhattan Institute researchers Jay P. Greene and Greg Forster, “Public High School Graduation and College Readiness Rates in the United States,” showed that two-thirds of students leave high school unprepared for college. Out of every 100 students who enter high school, only 68 graduate from high school, and then only 27 make it to their sophomore year of college. American 15-year-olds lag behind their peers across the world in math.

These alarming trends—which are based on surveys, tests and empirical evidence—help to frame the problem. Together, we must develop a solution, based on data, to ensure that every student graduates with the skills needed to succeed in college and in the workforce.

I believe the resulting data will also empower better systemic management of the nation’s educational enterprise.

A New Approach

How do we empower leadership in education using data, turning it into useful information and taking daily actions based on results? We need to measure what we do in education and then analyze this information to understand what we have to show for it. Are our educational approaches working? Does our spending align with our expected outcomes? Are we managing resources and our finances in the most effective and mature ways?

I am encouraging the education enterprise to rethink its approaches by designing, developing and implementing longitudinal data systems to efficiently and accurately manage, analyze, disaggregate and use individual student data. The long-term goal is to assist education leaders in generating and using accurate and timely data to meet reporting requirements; support decision-making at federal, state, district, school and classroom levels; and facilitate research needed to eliminate achievement gaps and improve learning of all students.

There are five main steps to take in designing a longitudinal data system:

1) Ensure quality of data to maximize validity, reliability and accessibility;

2) Ensure interoperability of statewide data according to the standards and guidelines of the National Center for Education Statistics;

3) Promote timely generation of accurate data for local, state and federal reporting with easy-to-use interfaces;

4) Promote linkages across geographic boundaries to allow sharing of historical data on individual students, especially when students are moving between states; and

5) Facilitate analysis and rigorous research to evaluate the effectiveness of programs, improve student learning and academic achievement, and close achievement gaps.

Systemically, we need to use the data to improve instruction at the classroom level. The data can also be used to provide better tools for teachers and administrators so that we understand where the dollars are most effective.

The key is to align spending to the expectations that we have of our students to succeed in the 21st century and show the correlating results.

Identifying the most cost-effective solutions and eliminating the achievement gaps between subgroups of students requires data. By developing systems that can turn the data into actionable information, a quiet revolution will begin to contribute substantially to improving the achievement of all students and ensure that no child is left behind.

College Bound and College Ready

The proportion of all students who graduate from high school with college-ready transcripts in the United States is below 40 percent.

41% NORTHEAST REGION (Includes Conn., Maine, Mass., N.H., N.J., N.Y., Pa., R.I., Vt.)

41% SOUTH REGION (Includes Ala., Ark., Del., D.C., Fla., Ga., Ky., La., Md., Miss., N.C., Okla., S.C., Tenn., Texas, Va., W.Va.)


34% MIDWEST REGION (Includes Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kan., Mich., Minn., Mo., Neb., N.D., Ohio, S.D., Wis.)

29%WEST REGION (Includes Alaska, Ariz., Calif., Colo., Hawaii, Idaho, Mont., Nev., N.M., Ore., Utah, Wash., Wyo.)

Source: From Appendix Table 8, Sept. 2003 Education Working Paper by Jay Greene and Greg Forster, “Public High School Graduation and College Readiness Rates in the United States” (www.manhattan-institute.org/pdf/ewp_03.pdf)

Integrate Your Data Systems

Integrated, interoperable data systems are the key to better allocation of resources, greater management efficiency, and online and technology-based assessments of student performance that empower educators to transform teaching and personalize instruction. Recommendations to states, districts and schools include:

• Establish a plan to integrate data systems so that administrators and educators have the information they need to increase efficiency and improve student learning.

• Use data from administrative and instructional systems to understand relationships between decisions, allocation of resources and student achievement.

• Ensure interoperability. For example, consider making School Interoperability Framework Compliance Certification a requirement for all requests for proposals and purchasing decisions.

• Use assessment results to inform and differentiate instruction for every child.

Margaret Spellings is the U.S. secretary of education. During President George W. Bush’s first term, Spellings served as assistant to the president for domestic policy, where she helped craft education policies, including the No Child Left Behind Act. Prior to her White House appointment, Spellings worked for six years as Governor George W. Bush’s senior advisor in Texas, with responsibility for developing and implementing the governor’s education policy.