Last week a coalition of 18 organizations, including the Data Quality Campaign, released a paper recognizing the critical role of the federal government in creating the conditions and supports for the safe and effective use of student data. The paper highlights the incredible developments in education and its use of data and online services in recent years and identifies three areas where the federal government is uniquely positioned to provide supports and guidance to states and districts:
Ensuring federal laws provide a strong foundation to protect student information.
Ensuring the federal government coordinates across agencies to provide clarity as to how privacy laws work together.
Supporting state and local capacity to safeguard data.
It is truly noteworthy that such a diverse group of education champions have found a strong common ground on which to build a federal framework that both supports the use of data in education and establishes the safeguards necessary to ensure privacy.
The recommendations outlined are timely as student data privacy has recently received significant federal attention. Last year, Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) looked to amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (a federal law providing key student privacy protections) beginning a conversation that continues today. Congress is also looking at protecting the student data collected through the use of online services. Representatives Luke Messer (R-IN) and Jared Polis (D-CO) just introduced the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act governing the activities of online service providers. This bill also has broad support from the education community.
These federal conversations about data privacy are especially important as Congress works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Committee discussion has been data-heavy, considering issues around data collection and reporting, accountability, assessments, and the efficacy of state education data systems. As we discuss the opportunities for future education data use, safeguarding privacy must be a part of the conversation and not a separate event.
DQC and the paper’s signatories hope that this high level statement can be a guiding light as the field continues to engage in discussions about the federal role in supporting effective data use. When data use is supported effectively at the federal, state, and local levels, and are safeguarded as an integral part of that use, we can unlock the incredible power of education data to help our nation’s students succeed.
The theme of the past two years when it comes to education data has definitely been privacy. Conversations have primarily focused on safeguarding data, and less attention has been paid to developing resources and opportunities for educators to use that data in service of their students. In the 2015 legislative session, however, state leaders have been looking at privacy and policies that promote data use. Below is a sample of some of the great stuff that has been introduced this session. While the realities of the legislative process are that these won’t all pass this year, I am nonetheless excited to see our state leaders having conversations about empowering educators with data, all in service of students!
States have a responsibility to be sure that educators and parents have access to their individual students’ data. Minnesota has taken one approach to providing that access by introducing a student data backpack bill requiring the commissioner of education to provide access to student data stored in the state’s data system to the student’s parent, teacher, and district. The bill is aimed at personalizing instruction to improve achievement and increasing the parent role in education by providing access to their child’s data. Providing the most important stakeholders with access to their child’s data through platforms like student data backpacks allows for greater understanding of how the child is doing in the classroom. (More on data backpacks here.)
In the Sunshine State, Florida legislators are working to combat chronic absenteeism by using data to identify students in need of additional support and interventions. This bill creates the conditions for an early warning system provided by the state. By using indicators around attendance and discipline, administrators can make note of which students are at risk of chronic absenteeism—often a sign students are at risk of dropping out—and can determine strategic interventions to help these students catch up and stay on schedule with their classmates, regardless of their circumstances. Several other school districts across the US, such as Chicago, have seen great success in improving student achievement through an early warning system.
In order for data to be used effectively and securely in the classroom, teachers and administrators must be provided with professional development opportunities to develop their data skills. Two states are taking a legislative approach to supporting data use skills. Minnesota introduced a bill that would require future teacher development programs to include opportunities for teachers to use student data as part of their daily work to increase achievement. Washington also introduced a bill that pushes for a collaborative effort by teachers, school leaders, and other educators to identify student and educator learning needs using 31 different data sources. These are just two examples of attempting to create the conditions for educators to have opportunities to understand the value and use of data in their classroom.
Of course, to use any of this data, it has to be trusted. That is why so many states have spent the past couple of years focusing on safeguarding data. Data are most valuable when they are high quality, available when you need them, trustworthy and safe, and useful.
So many things are happening in legislatures this year, I couldn’t fit it all in one blog! Stay tuned for part two.
New Book: How Do School Leaders Effectively Use Data to Improve Achievement?
In 2013 the Petworth neighborhood campus of Center City Public Charter Schools posted the biggest English Language Learner (ELL) achievement gains in Washington, DC. Through the use of data, teachers and other education leaders in the school found patterns that improved instruction by addressing the unique needs of each student.