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IMPROVING EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES: Alliance Symposium Focuses on Importance of Data to Closing the Achievement Gap and Successfully Reforming Schools

More than 100 educators, policymakers, researchers, and advocates attended the Alliance for Excellent Education’s symposium on March 9 and 10 to discuss the critical role of data in improving educational outcomes. Speakers ranging from Tom Luce, assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development at the U.S. Department of Education, to Valerie Woodruff, secretary of education for the State of Delaware, all agreed that closing the achievement gap and successfully reforming schools will require the development and thoughtful use of well-designed longitudinal data systems in every state.

Over the course of a day and a half, experts set out a vision of how effective use of longitudinal data systems can help educators and policymakers assure that all students are taught the skills necessary to compete in today’s workforce. Roy Johnson from the Intercultural Development Research Association explained how Texas built actionable knowledge for student success using longitudinal data on student attrition while John Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises (and former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council), drew on his recently published report, The Silent Epidemic, to illustrate the relevance of using data to inform both policy and practice.

Representatives from the Data Quality Campaign described the practical benefits of longitudinal data for policymakers wanting to address issues of most concern to the public such as, “How many students drop out after eighth grade?” or “What percentage of each high school’s graduates take remedial courses in college?”

There was a lively discussion on the importance of data as a tool for those focused on protecting the civil rights of America’s students, and on the inherent tensions between the ideal and the practical in building and using these systems.

Participants were updated on recent national and federal activities related to the building and use of longitudinal data systems such as the graduation compact that has been signed by all 50 governors and the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) grants.

John Jackson, chief policy officer for the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, roused participants with an inspirational speech during Thursday’s luncheon.

Throughout the 2-day symposium, panelists and audience members identified and debated issues surrounding implementation of data-driven decisionmaking to inform the art and science of policy and practice in an effort to close the student achievement gap. Researchers, advocates, policymakers, and practitioners all agreed that building and effectively using statewide data systems is a critical component for determining, influencing, and increasing student achievement, as well as improving educational attainment outcomes, including higher graduation rates.

Audio and video from the event is available on the Alliance website at

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