Promising Plan Raises Several Concerns
Abigail Evans, NAESP Government Relations Specialist
Communicator, Vol. 33, No. 5, January 2010

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is ramping up the requirements for teachers and principals to better use data in their decision-making that affects student progress and achievement. To complement this, states are being required to improve their longitudinal data collection systems in an effort to enable districts to use data more effectively through monies in the Race to the Top (RTTT) grant program. This is likely to come at a great expense to local schools, and to date no federal funds have been earmarked to assist districts with these expenses.

New Requirements
One consistently recognized benefit of the No Child Left Behind Act is the light it shone on gaps in learning through data disaggregation. However, too little money was made available to states to enable them to drastically improve their data collection systems to enable clearer analysis of student progress. Meanwhile, many states chose to focus on their achievement benchmarks at the detriment of these data collection systems—after all, what good is data to teachers and principals if it can’t inform instruction?

The U.S. Department of Education is attempting to amend this by requiring improvements to state collection systems as a requirement to applying for any RTTT grant funds. The program also includes an additional $250 million in grants to states to improve their data systems.

As stated in RTTT, state data systems must include:

  1. A unique statewide student identifier that does not permit a student to be individually identified by users of the system;
  2. Student-level enrollment, demographic, and program participation information; 
  3. Student-level information about the points at which students exit, transfer in, transfer out, drop out, or complete P-16 education programs; 
  4. The capacity to communicate with higher education data systems; 
  5. A state data audit system assessing data quality, validity, and reliability; 
  6. Yearly test records of individual students with respect to assessments required under NCLB; 
  7. Information on students not tested by grade and subject; 
  8. A teacher identifier system with the ability to match teachers to students;
  9. Student-level transcript information, including information on courses completed and grades earned;
  10. Student-level college-readiness test scores;
  11. Information regarding the extent to which students transition successfully from secondary school to postsecondary education, including whether students enroll in remedial coursework; and
  12. Other information determined necessary to address alignment and adequate preparation for success in postsecondary education.

This large project includes elements that have many concerned—especially regarding the student identifier (#1), the teacher identifier systems (#8), and the collection of data from P-16 (#3). These requirements place many new collection requirements on states, but also—and perhaps more importantly—on local schools.

Effect on Schools
As states begin to update and improve their data collection systems as RTTT requires, districts will be responsible for ensuring their own data systems will be able to “communicate” with the state’s system. In other words, school districts will be required to collect, submit, and retrieve data to and from the state in a method that the state system can decipher—and local schools will bear the brunt of the costs associated with achieving this.

The time for improved state longitudinal data systems is upon us. After eight years of No Child Left Behind, educators understand the need for quality data to inform their decision-making. We can all hope that the end results of these requirements are data systems (at the state and local levels) that collect useable data that will enable teachers and principals to make informed decisions in classrooms and schools.

Copyright © National Association of Elementary School Principals. No part of the articles in NAESP magazines, newsletters, or Web site may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. For more information, view NAESP's reprint policy.