By: Brennan McMahon Parton, director of policy and advocacy at the Data Quality Campaign

I love what has been happening here—a whole month dedicated to talking about data, and what happens when educators and partners use it to help students excel. The blogs and twitter posts shared have captured how timely data can help parents support their students' learning, how students can use data to own their learning, and how quality time and tools can enable teachers to more effectively meet students’ unique needs. Reading these stories, I can’t help but feel excited to see what’s possible for students when data is used to light the way!

What’s clear is that when parents, teachers, and students themselves have useful data, they’re empowered to answer questions, take action, and make change that matters in schools and classrooms. A key ingredient to making this vision possible is access. Those closest to students must have the data they need, when they need it, to make decisions that boost outcomes and achievement. Creating these conditions requires that state policymakers take action to put data in the hands of people.

Data Quality Campaign’s Time to Act: 2017 , which outlines the landscape of education data, finds that while more states have prioritized using data to reach education goals, no state has fully realized the vision of using data effectively to serve students. More work is needed to ensure that meaningful and timely data is put into the hands of those who need it, and policymakers play a role in making it happen. These leaders must look and learn from states breaking ground to make data available to teachers and parents. For example:

In Delaware, state leaders worked to turn data already housed in the state’s data system into actionable tools to shine a light on trends in college readiness. With this data in hand, teachers, counselors, and school leaders now have easy access to information about whether students are on track for college and which students are falling behind. These efforts provide teachers the data they need to identify and work with individual students and ensure they have the right support and resources to be college-ready. With policymakers leading the way, this work has led to the development of a statewide college readiness plan and three consecutive years in which every highly qualified graduating senior has applied to at least one postsecondary institution.

In Louisiana, state leaders invested in the quality and usability of their state report card to put meaningful data in the hands of parents. In order to ensure the report met the information needs of parents, state leaders engaged with a wide array of community stakeholders and incorporated this feedback in the development of their report card. This outreach helped ensure that parents had access to the data they needed, in a format that was meaningful and useful to them. By providing parents easy access to clear and actionable information about the students and schools in their community, policymakers have made it possible for parents to make more informed decisions about their child’s education.

In Georgia, state leaders took action to put data in the hands of those closest to students through continued investments in the state’s longitudinal data system, known as the Georgia Tunnel. Built under a strong coalition of state leaders, the Tunnel links local data along with state-level resources to provide teachers, parents, and students secure, role-based access to a wealth of high-quality, longitudinal data in a one-stop-shop platform. With this data in hand, teachers are enabled to more effectively individualize instruction and parents are empowered with more information to support their child at home. In 2015 policymakers affirmed their ongoing support for data access by passing legislation to protect student privacy without compromising the availability of useful data. This commitment to data access has contributed to sustained improvements in the state’s graduation rate and has positively transformed the role of data in the state.

Families, educators, and communities need and deserve to know how their students and schools are doing; efforts like these are the first step to creating conditions to make it possible. Here’s what policymakers can do to put data in the hands of people:

  • Ensure that leaders responsible for student outcomes have the feedback data they need from other systems to effectively serve students.
  • Conduct a needs assessment of your state’s local education agencies to determine the unique data needs of each, and advocate for tools and resources to meet those needs.
  • Enact the necessary policies, practices, and conditions to ensure that every educator has the time, training, and tools to use data effectively.
  • Engage stakeholders, including parents and teachers, and work with fellow leaders (legislators, education board members, state education agency, the governor’s office) to improve the accessibility and usefulness of your state report card.

Making data work for students requires that parents and teachers have access to the data they need, when they need it. It’s time for policymakers to take action to ensure this becomes a reality in every state, for every student.