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MAKING A LIST AND CHECKING IT TWICE: Data Quality Campaign Issues Annual Progress Report on State Data Systems

“Faced with the need to create a competitive workforce and dramatically improve the quality of America’s education system, states have embraced an aggressive policy agenda to better prepare students for postsecondary education and careers,”

Over the past four years, states have made tremendous progress in developing longitudinal data systems that can track the progress of individual students throughout their education careers, according to the Data Quality Campaign’s (DQC) annual progress report on state data systems. Whereas no states reported having all ten essential elements of a high-quality longitudinal data system in place in 2005, eleven states have all ten elements in place today. DQC’s report also notes that policy issues previously considered “untouchable,” such as addressing obstacles to linking student growth and achievement data to teachers and principals for the purposes of evaluation, are now being discussed.

DQC’s Ten Essential Elements of a High-Quality Longitudinal Data System

  1. A unique statewide student identifier that connects student data across key databases across years
  2. Student-level enrollment, demographic, and program participation information
  3. The ability to match individual students’ test records from year to year to measure academic growth
  4. Information on untested students and the reasons they were not tested
  5. A teacher identifier system with the ability to match teachers to students
  6. Student-level transcript information, including information on courses completed and grades earned
  7. Student-level college-readiness test scores
  8. Student-level graduation and dropout data
  9. The ability to match student records between the P–12 and higher education systems
  10. A state data audit system assessing data quality, validity, and reliability

More information on each element is available at


“Faced with the need to create a competitive workforce and dramatically improve the quality of America’s education system, states have embraced an aggressive policy agenda to better prepare students for postsecondary education and careers,” the report reads. “To inform this agenda, states also have made enormous progress over the past four years on developing robust student-level longitudinal data systems able to track individual student progress over time and through their educational careers.”

Every year, DQC surveys all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to assess states’ progress toward implementing the ten essential elements of a high-quality longitudinal data system. This year, for the first time, the report finds that every state is on track to have a longitudinal data system that can follow students from preschool through college by 2011. It attributes this progress to significant and sustained commitments by states, as well as several actions undertaken by the federal government.

One major federal action is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which requires every governor and chief state school officer to build longitudinal data systems by 2011 as one of the conditions for receiving a portion of $53.6 billion in state stabilization funds, which states can use to help close budget deficits. Additionally, requirements for the Race to the Top program and the Statewide Data System grant program include promoting the effective use of data to inform decision-making and teaching to improve outcomes.

“ARRA has motivated states to remove barriers to data sharing, and it provides a strategic opportunity to engage a broad range of state stakeholders in a thoughtful dialogue around how data systems should be built, expanded and used to inform decisions to improve both individual and system outcomes,” the report reads.

According to DQC’s 2009 survey, and demonstrated in the map below, thirty-one states have eight or more of the elements, only two states have fewer than five elements, and all but one state collect student-level enrollment, demographic, and program participation data or collect student-level graduation and dropout data.

Making a list

Despite this progress, however, the report finds that many states lack critical elements for addressing college and career readiness and the impact that teachers have on student achievement (elements 5, 6, and 7). For example, only twenty-three states collect transcript information on courses taken, completed, and grades earned. Only thirty-seven states collect college-readiness test scores on exams such as AP, ACT, and SAT. Only twenty-four states have a teacher identifier system with the ability to match teachers to students.

The report notes that creating state longitudinal data systems and collecting data to answer questions about performance is an important first step, but it argues that states must also have policies and practices in place that allow stakeholders throughout the education system to access, understand, and be able to use the information effectively. In an effort to provide greater detail on how states are changing policies and practices to promote linkages across systems, ensure appropriate access to new data and analysis, and strengthen stakeholder capacity to use the information, DQC, in January 2010, will release its first report on the ten actions states can take to ensure the effective use of longitudinal data.

“Education reform is not about sweeping mandates or grand gestures,” said U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “It’s about systematically examining, learning, and building on what we’re doing right and fixing what hasn’t worked for our children. The Data Quality Campaign has challenged states to expose the good, the bad, and the ugly about our schools and focus the national conversation on how data can lay the groundwork for reform.”

The complete report is available at

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