Data System is a Tool for Education Improvement

“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” – W. Edwards Deming

The Alabama Legislature is considering legislation, HB 97 by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, and SB 153 by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, to establish a smart and secure statewide system to measure student achievement over time. Incredibly, in the 21st century, Alabama does not have a statewide platform for collecting longitudinal data that are gathered from year to year to plot change. Currently, education and workforce data are collected by various entities, but it is not longitudinal in nature.

Most data that we have are a snapshot of information at one point in time. There is no means to measure how something at one point in time affects outcomes later in life. We’re essentially asking our legislators, school districts, principals, and teachers to make decisions based on opinions and not science-based data.

For example, the percentage of Alabama high school graduates taking remedial courses in college can be determined. However, a longitudinal data system would enable us to learn what high school programs/achievement levels (e.g. enrollment in advanced courses or performance on state tests) improve student readiness for college, what college-level programs ensure that more students succeed in higher education, and what is the cost.

Shouldn’t legislators who are attempting to direct our very limited dollars know which initiatives show the best evidence of increasing student achievement? Shouldn’t school administrators have the information and resources to effectively manage? Shouldn’t teachers have the data to inform their instruction to help each student improve?

A secure longitudinal data system would provide these answers while at the same time protect confidentiality of the information. It would utilize performance records from early childhood education through the workforce to evaluate the progress of education programs and workforce programs over time.

It is important to note that with the proposed secure longitudinal data system, privacy is paramount. The proposed system does not track individuals nor does it provide personally identifiable information or release information on any individual. Period!

The purpose of the secure longitudinal data system is to look at how groups of students advance through education and training programs, to determine which programs that are successful and those that are not, learn which groups that may need early intervention to help them succeed, what programs that are best practices and can be incorporated into other areas, and workforce outcomes of participants in both higher education and workforce training programs.

We have the pieces that will let our children succeed. Now is the time to put those pieces together through a longitudinal data system and use the data to know what is working for students, and perhaps more importantly, what is not.

In the words of my good friend and New York Times bestselling author Andy Andrews, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own set of facts.” Let’s let the facts, not our opinions, guide our decisions so that all Alabama students will excel.

Originally published in The Gadsden Times and Alabama Today.