Helping students succeed with timely, actionable information to those who need it most.

GUEST COLUMN | by Paige Kowalski

CREDIT Data Quality CampaignThe Data Quality Campaign (DQC) recently released a new vision and set of policy recommendations to help states enact policies critical to ensuring that data is used to support student learning. We gathered a bunch of smart people in a room (and via webcast) to impress on them how we can—and must—do better for kids. We need to do better for the military mom, the first-year teacher, the struggling ninth-grader, the tireless school leader. How do we do better? By getting quality, timely, actionable information to those who need it most to help students succeed.

Our recommendations for policymakers outline four policy priorities:

  • Measure What Matters: Be clear about what students must achieve and have the data to ensure that all students are on track to succeed.
  • Make Data Use Possible: Provide teachers and leaders the flexibility, training, and support they need to answer their questions and take action.
  • Be Transparent and Earn Trust: Ensure that every community understands how its schools and students are doing, why data is valuable, and how it is protected and used.
  • Guarantee Access and Protect Privacy: Provide teachers and parents timely information on their students and make sure it is kept safe.

Every student has a unique background, unique strengths, and a unique path to college and career. To date, efforts to improve education have operated on a model of mass production, assuming—wrongly—that what works for some students must work for all. Data has the

The focus needs to pivot from collecting data to using data at all levels.

potential to transform education from a model of mass production to a personalized enterprise that meets the needs of individuals and ensures that no student is lost along the way. But for this transformation to happen, the focus needs to pivot from collecting data to using data at all levels. In order for districts and states to use data and technology to personalize learning for students, we must stop thinking about data as a hammer for compliance and instead start seeing data as a flashlight illuminating the path to continuous improvement.

Education technology has a significant role to play in making personalized learning a reality for all kids. At the same time, the integration of technology into education has significant implications for the privacy and security of student information. States need to understand the digital environments in which student data is generated and stored, account for schools’ use of third-party online applications, and address the need for security safeguards designed for evolving digital environments. States must adopt smart policies and practices to ensure the privacy and security of students’ personal information and build trust in the use of student data.

Providing secure access to student-level data to educators and parents gets us closer to realizing the promise of personalized learning. With advances in education technology, teachers have richer and more useful information than ever before to support teaching and learning. Using data and technology in new ways allows educators to generate a more holistic picture of student learning than has been traditionally available, providing them with information about students that is both timely and useful. When teachers have access to information, they can better tailor their practice to what individual students need. States must advance policies and practices that give teachers and families access to valuable information so they can better support students.

Of course, having access to quality data doesn’t help teachers—and students—improve if teachers don’t know how to interpret and act on that information. Educators need training, time, and tools to use education technology (and the data that is generated) effectively to improve teaching and learning. Our policy recommendations call for states to enact the necessary policies, practices, and conditions to ensure that every educator can use data effectively.

Technology and data use has immense potential to transform education from a one-size-fits-all model to one that recognizes students’ unique strengths, challenges, and goals. Implementing the four policy priorities is fundamental to realizing the potential of personalized learning. It will be challenging work, but we believe that it is both necessary and possible. Now that every state in the nation has a robust longitudinal data system, it is possible for every student in this country to benefit from personalized learning that meets his or her needs. We are confident that states are ready to tackle this next step. All students deserve a great education, and changing how we think about and use education data is essential to that mission. When students, parents, educators, and partners have the right information to make decisions, students excel.

Paige Kowalski is the vice president of policy and advocacy for the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit policy and advocacy organization leading the effort to bring every part of the education community together to empower educators, families and policymakers with quality information to make decisions that ensure students achieve their best.