Robust Data Systems Help States Recover

Postsecondary & Workforce

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This post comes from Erin Roth, director of education research at the Office of the D.C. Auditor. Views expressed in guest posts are those of the author. 

States with robust statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDS) are positioned to help support student learning during and after the pandemic. These systems provide additional information to lean on during a crisis, such as courses, credits and engagement, and a buffer when specific data collections, like standardized testing, are limited or lack quality. Longitudinal data, or data linked over time at the student level, can help states glean progress even when data are missing or are compromised. The value of these systems supports the key recommendation in a recent audit, that the District of Columbia complete the work to create an SLDS.

Since 2002, the federal SLDS Grant Program has invested more than $700 million in building these data systems at the state level. State funding multiplies this total amount invested considerably. Most states either have or are in the process of implementing a P-20W+ data system that links individual student data from preschool through higher education, the workforce and beyond. In Arkansas, Kentucky, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, education stakeholders can view higher education and workforce outcomes for high school graduates.

In Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Montana and New Hampshire, educators have access to information from early warning systems that flag students who need targeted support. The National Forum for Educational Statistics provides a publication space where states can share these efforts for valuable insights and collaboration.

For example, states with robust data systems can use existing data in new ways and collect additional data. Hawaii created an interactive dashboard with 20 new metrics that assess learning during the pandemic, such as grades, technology and enrollment changes. Connecticut started collecting data on student engagement and Massachusetts added data on learning time. Maryland recently reported on student course failure rates in an effort to assess student learning and gaps during the pandemic, highlighting specific concerns by course and region.

Virginia used longitudinal student level data to determine that students in career and technical education (CTE) who took advanced math courses significantly benefitted in higher education and the workforce compared  to CTE completers who did not take these courses. Such findings can inform schools and districts struggling to re-envision these programs and aid CTE students in success.

Similarly, North Carolina identified specific issues on equitable access to advanced math coursework, and these findings could be leveraged to help practitioners more equitably identify students for advanced coursework.

We know that the pandemic continues to disrupt the lives of many students and families because of increased job loss, housing and food insecurity, and health concerns. Many schools and districts are struggling to locate both immigrant families and students experiencing homelessness. The Forum recently published a guide on how to structure and use data systems to track students that have been displaced because of the pandemic. The guide provides best practices for using data to help states in a crisis preserve or restore educational services, and collect and maintain data about mobile students.

While state-level investments often go unnoticed, these efforts are paying off at the local level. A recent audit of the District of Columbia’s data system provided resources — tailored for the District of Columbia — about state data best practices. The auditor’s office even created a demonstration early warning system to show the type of support that is possible for the District of Columbia and presently available in other states.

While a robust SLDS is ideal, the District of Columbia can produce needed and actionable data with what they do collect. States that are leveraging existing data and research and are building on these investments are proving the power of robust data systems during this unprecedented shift in learning and recovery.

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