Data system a tool to improve education

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Alabama Legislature is considering 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, Alabama currently does not have a statewide platform for collecting longitudinal data that are gathered from year to year to plot change.

There are no means to measure how something at one point in time affects outcomes later. But a longitudinal data system would enable us to learn if high school enrollment in advanced courses or performance on state tests improve student readiness for college, what college-level programs ensure that more students succeed, and at what cost. 

Shouldn’t legislators who 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? And shouldn’t teachers have the data to help their instruction improve students?

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A secure longitudinal data system – personal information would not be identifiable – would utilize performance records from early childhood education through the workforce to evaluate the progress of education and workforce programs.

The purpose is to look at how groups of students advance through education and training, to determine which programs are successful and those that are not, learn which groups 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 gather those pieces and use the data to know what works, and perhaps more importantly, what does not. Let the facts, not our opinions, guide decisions so that all Alabama students can excel.

William J. Canary, President, Business Council of Alabama