The importance of good data

For the first time since 2001, the U.S. House of Representatives debated and passed the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. As a parent who is looking to have more robust information on my children’s education I find the reauthorization particularly interesting. Mostly because the ESEA requirement of 2002 was to provide disaggregate data to the public so that we could have better insights into schools’ academic performance. And we can argue the merits of standardized testing and whether the data collected is being used in the most effective way, but what I believe is critical is that parents have access to this data, a comprehensive set of information of their children’s education. Something that is still not possible in many states. All states have a state longitudinal data system but few (a handful maybe) can provide this information to parents and students so that we can all make informed decisions.

I think we can all agree that an updated law is necessary to provide students in America with opportunities for growth. But we cannot do so without the right information in our hands. For example, the Colorado Growth Model provides both student specific sets to parents and teachers to guide their decision making and to the public at large in an aggregate form so we can get an accurate picture of school performance. The information these data sets provide has tremendous potential. It can identify groups of vulnerable learners that are being left behind as well as provide parents with information to help their children in areas in which they may be struggling.

As the debates over ESEA continue, we must recognize that we cannot effectively help students without the correct information. We should not reduce the amount of information at our disposal. Big data sets are helpful and can identify how well certain groups of students are doing, or not. They can help us understand the impact that different policies have on schools and allow us to correct course. Robust information empowers students and parents to advocate for themselves. None of this would be possible without data.

Rather than advocating for less data collected, lets advocate for good data sets. Data that is collected purposely and kept safe and private but that is given back to students, parents and the community at large to make informed decisions about our educational system. We cannot afford to know less about student learning.

I am looking forward to following how the debate over ESEA continues but I do hope everyone recognizes the importance of data and how useful it can be in helping student learning.

And seriously, we should all be demanding evidence that all our students are learning. Isn’t that what matters at the end of the day?

 

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