Vast Improvements in Data Quality, But Still Room to Grow

In 2007, when Leaders & Laggards first ranked data-quality policy in states, it relied on the Data Quality Campaign’s (DQC's) 10 “essential elements” for state longitudinal data systems. Those measures deemed necessary were: statewide student identifiers; student-level enrollment data; student-level test data; information on untested students; statewide teacher identifiers and student matches; student-level course completion data; student-level ACT, SAT, and AP test data; student-level graduation and dropout data; the ability to link P–12 and higher education data; and a state audit system.

Since that first publication of Leaders & Laggards, much has changed. In 2009, every state across the country agreed to implement these elements as a part of the America Competes Act, which first passed Congress in 2007 and was signed by President Bush and reauthorized in 2010 and signed into law by President Obama in 2011. 

As a result of this bipartisan push for better education data, by 2013, according to the DQC’s analysis, 37 states had successfully implemented all 10 elements; 13 had implemented 8 or 9; and one state, Montana, had implemented 7.

In 2007, 37 states had a statewide student identifier (Element 1); by 2013, that number jumped to every state and the District of Columbia. In 2007, only 7 states had statewide ACT, SAT, and AP exam data (Element 7); in 2013 all 50 states and D.C. had compiled that data. In 2007, only 12 states were able to link K–12 student data to higher education data (Element 9); as of 2013, 49 states could do so.

Clearly, these improvements proved a great accomplishment for DQC. The efforts to foster better education data is also a victory for students and taxpayers. Having high-quality data on the performance of K–12 schools is essential to ensuring that schools are held accountable for their performance. It helps policymakers make the right decisions on which policies are working to promote student learning and which offer a good return on the public investment. Good data are also essential for fostering a vibrant education marketplace. 

Rather than declare victory over data, DQC has pushed on to challenge states for even greater feats. In response to the widespread adoption of their essential elements, DQC raised the bar and created a new set of 10 “state actions” that states can take to keep pushing their data quality forward.

The 10 actions are: linking data systems; creating stable, sustained support; developing governance structures; building state data repositories; implementing systems to provide timely access to information; creating progress reports using individual student data to improve student performance; creating reports using longitudinal statistics to guide systemwide improvement efforts; developing a P–20/workforce research agenda (one that would expand data linkages from early childhood education through workforce); promoting educator professional development and credentialing; and promoting strategies to raise awareness of available data. Taken as a whole, these 10 actions set a higher bar for state leaders. While the 10 elements helped ensure that every state collected high-quality data, now states will need to develop systems and enact policy changes to ensure that data can be effectively used by key stakeholders (including educators, parents, and taxpayers). 

By raising awareness on making use of good data, DQC sets a standard for advocacy organizations to adapt to changing circumstances and be held accountable, even after making progress. Many similar advocacy groups could learn from this example.

The 10 state actions are the metric by which states are judged in this iteration of Leaders & Laggards. See Data Quality