This blog was written in conjunction by Rachel Anderson and Brennan Parton.
We just spent three days talking #eddata among the palm trees! Jealous? You should be. In addition to the sunny California weather, we heard earnest conversations among state education data leaders about making sure that data are quality, used to improve instruction, and, critically, kept private and secure. These were all themes this week as state education data leaders and experts gathered at CCSSO’s Education Information Management Advisory Consortium (EIMAC) conference to share best practices, ideas, and lessons learned.
It was clearer to us than ever before that nationwide, state data and policy leaders believe in the power —really the necessity—of data to make profound change for schools and students. Topics discussed at the conference ranged from boosting high school graduation rates to ensuring transparency with the public about the value of data, to providing high-quality classroom and curriculum resources for teachers. However, across all of these conversations, student privacy and the importance of safeguarding education data has been paramount.
One great example is work that Massachusetts (shout-out to Rachel’s home state!) is doing on its Edwin student data and resource platform. The session at EIMAC focused on the initiative’s work to personalize learning, improve instruction, and inspire teachers. But the conversation also touched on the importance of maintaining data quality and charging districts with assigning role-based access to the student data in the system. Experts stressed building data protections into the inception of new programs and apps and building public trust around the safeguarding of data. It was a strong reminder that secure data is quality data.
Conference sessions also highlighted a number of resources addressing the critical role of data privacy in effective data use. In one session, attendees consulted a number of resources from the US Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), including a new resource explaining the exceptions outlined under FERPA and checklists and best practices for states on safeguarding student privacy. Another session shared a toolkit prepared by the SIF Association on using data to help students make meaningful growth within the context of using data responsibly and safeguarding student privacy.
We couldn’t have been happier to spend a couple of days in a warmer part of the country—perhaps the only people happier than us were those from Wisconsin and Minnesota! But really the best part was hearing the profound commitment of state chief information officers and other data leaders across the country to supporting each and every student while safeguarding their privacy. If the innovation, energy, and commitment to the ethical use of data evident at the conference are any indication, there are sure to be great education data innovations continuing to emerge within states to improve student success without sacrificing privacy.
This question was the basis for “Integrating Education, Social Services and Workforce Data: A Collaborative Research Opportunities Conference” at the University of Pennsylvania.
One answer is through integrated data efforts. Integrated data means using information from one sector to track your progress in another. For instance, a state higher education agency might use integrated data to determine whether community college graduates were able to find employment in their chosen field. Figuring this out requires combining information from the higher education and workforce sectors.
The meeting, which included leaders from the education, workforce and employment, and social service sectors, was organized by Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy and the Jacob France Institute. Both of these institutions develop innovative strategies for using data to better understand complex social issues. The event was cosponsored by the US Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center, which offers technical assistance and best practices to states on ways to safeguard student privacy when working with education data.
The group expressed a strong belief in the value of using data to strengthen the effectiveness of public services, and participants’ conversation centered on a series of themes:
Integrated data efforts require trust and mutually beneficial partnerships. For instance, partnerships between school districts and universities must balance the need to answer immediate questions while continuing to invest in long-term research projects.
There is a lack of information about what happens to students as they transition from one system to the next. For example, what happens when a student graduates high school and enters college or the workforce.
The success of integrated data efforts is contingent on demonstrating the value of data. New integrated data efforts will require both political and monetary support. Demonstrating the value of integrated data efforts will help make the case to invest in this work.
Over the coming months, a group of meeting participants will develop a series of research questions that get at the intersection of the education, social services, and workforce sectors.