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MEASURING WHAT MATTERS: Report Evaluates States’ Progress on Developing High-Quality Data Systems

“The Data Quality Campaign has brought focus to the benefits of good data systems,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

In 2005, all fifty of the nation’s governors signed the National Governors Association (NGA) Graduation Counts Compact. As part of that commitment, they agreed to implement a common, accurate graduation rate and create better systems and methods of collecting, analyzing, and reporting graduation and dropout data. Currently, forty-two states have the data systems in place to calculate the NGA’s graduation rate, and all states except one (Idaho) will report the NGA graduation rate by the 2010–11 school year, according to Measuring What Matters: Creating Longitudinal Data Systems to Improve Student Achievement, a new report from the Data Quality Campaign (DQC).

“The Data Quality Campaign has brought focus to the benefits of good data systems,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. “Today, thanks in part to the DQC, forty-two states have already done the hard work necessary to have systems in place to calculate a more accurate and reliable graduation rate, and almost every other state is on track to have systems developed by 2011. Information is a powerful motivator for change, and I’m pleased that these states have put together systems that will empower parents and policymakers throughout the country to work to reverse low graduation rates.”

Each year, the DQC surveys all fifty states and the District of Columbia to gauge their progress toward implementing the DQC’s ten essential elements of a longitudinal data system, which are outlined in the box below. The number in parentheses is the number of states that report having that element in place in 2008. In order to calculate the graduation rate defined in the NGA compact, states must have elements one, two, eight, and ten in place.

The Data Quality Campaign’s Ten Essential Elements of a Longitudinal Data System

1. A unique statewide student identifier that connects student data across key databases across years (48)
2. Student-level enrollment, demographic and program participation information (49)
3. The ability to match individual students’ test records from year to year to measure academic growth (48)
4. Information on untested students and the reasons they were not tested (41)
5. A teacher identifier system with the ability to match teachers to students (21)
6. Student-level transcript information, including information on courses completed and grades earned (17)
7. Student-level college-readiness test scores (29)
8. Student-level graduation and dropout data (50)
9. The ability to match student records between the P–12 and higher education systems (28)
10. A state data audit system assessing data quality, validity, and reliability (45)

Since the survey began in 2005, states have made impressive gains. In 2005, no state reported having all ten elements in place; this year, six states (Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, and Utah) have all ten. Additionally, forty-eight states have at least five elements in place and forty-seven states expect to have eight or more elements in place within the next three years.

The report also finds that states have made progress toward developing the tools they need to use the data, although it is not clear how states are actually taking advantage of the data to improve student performance. For example, forty-four states can identify students in public prekindergarten programs and link that information with K–12 education data, and twenty-eight can follow K–12 students into postsecondary education. Such data give states the capacity to improve alignment throughout the P–20 education pipeline, but the DQC is not able to report on whether states are actually using this data to improve student performance.

And there is other important work that still needs to be done. According to the report, only twenty-one states have the ability to match teachers to students by classroom and subject, a critical element for understanding the connection between teacher training and qualifications and student growth. This connection can make it possible to determine which teacher preparation programs produce graduates whose students have the strongest academic growth. It also can allow districts to analyze the experience levels of the teachers in high-poverty schools and compare them with those of teachers in schools serving more affluent students.

Currently, only seventeen states collect student-level course completion information, which provides the number and percent of students, including low-income and minority students, who enroll in and complete rigorous courses in high school. Such information will tell states which middle schools do the best job of preparing students for high school and whether students in more rigorous courses in high school have been more successful in college or the workforce.

“The DQC’s report demonstrates that major progress has been made during this first phase of the campaign, but the road ahead remains a long one,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “The next step is for states to ensure that the data collected are accessible, understandable, and strategically used to address individual student needs.”

The Data Quality Campaign was launched in November 2005 as a collaborative effort of national organizations to help states develop high-quality data systems that collect information about how individual students are doing over time, from prekindergarten through twelfth grade and into postsecondary education. Such data, called longitudinal data, give policymakers and educators the information they need to assess the effects of their efforts and adjust policies and practices to improve student achievement. The managing partners of the DQC include the Alliance for Excellent Education, Achieve, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, among others.

More information on the Data Quality Campaign, the ten essential elements of a longitudinal data system, and Measuring What Matters is available at

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