A decade ago, NCLB brought education data to the forefront. The law required that all students in certain grades be tested and that test scores be disaggregated by student subgroup, made publicly available, and used for accountability purposes.
Today, data use for identifying students at risk of dropping out of high school and instructional and school improvement is one of ED’s four key priorities for education reform. The importance of data-driven decision making is clearly spelled out in the Race to the Top and i3 application guidelines and ED’s blueprint for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Indeed, as in other fields, data are a necessary ingredient for school improvement and instructional planning. Without data, how do we assess needs and priorities, identify appropriate actions, and monitor results? The wealth of data available about students, teachers, schools, districts, and states can and should be used to inform and test educational policies and practices and research proposals and designs.
However, education data are frequently underutilized, especially at the high school level. Many high school students are taught by as many as 6 teachers in a single day, and high school teachers are typically responsible for educating 120 students or more. Thus, timely and frequent access to data and communication and collaboration among high school teachers are especially important. Data will allow teachers to identify struggling students before they fall through the cracks (e.g., early warning indicators) and to better understand the needs and strengths of their students across content areas and skill domains (e.g., formative assessments). One of the key challenges teachers face, however, is limited time to collaborate.
Another challenge is that providing access to data is not the same as providing usable information. Practitioners and policymakers generally don’t have experience using large, complex datasets, nor should this be a job requirement. The good news is that you don’t have to be a statistician to use data to inform policy and practice. But you do need relevant, accurate, and usable information available when you need it.
Because of the increasingly important role of data in high school improvement and ensuring the success of all students, we will continue our discussion of data, including examples of tools and resources, through regular postings from the National High School Center staff and invited experts over the coming months.
Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.