Using student data to better educational outcomes is a priority of many districts nationwide, and an April report from the Data Quality Campaign lays out four priorities for policymakers who are ready to take education data to the next level.

The advocacy organization has spent the last 12 years measuring how well states matched up to its suggested elements of a longitudinal data system and state actions for effective data use. With Time to Act: Making Data Work for Students, the campaign is shifting its focus to the people part of the equation.

States have the information they need in their longitudinal data systems so that educators can make the right decisions for each student, and many of them have acted on that information. But that work was easy compared to the challenge that lies ahead: changing states' culture, thoughts and ideas around data.

"It's going to take leadership," said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, president and CEO of the Data Quality Campaign. "We need policymakers at every level to prioritize meeting people's needs with information." 

To that end, the campaign's report laid out four policy priorities along with a series of recommendations:

1. Measure What Matters

For this policy priority, states will need to set clear student learning goals and track student progress toward them. The campaign suggested that policymakers ask questions to figure out their state's data action priorities and look at data from early childhood to the workforce to help students succeed.

2. Make Data Use Possible

Without support, educators will have a hard time using data to inform their instruction. This support may include training, staff time, technology tools and money. 

3. Be Transparent and Earn Trust

It's important for communities to understand why schools collect data, how their students are doing and what schools are doing to protect their data.

"If people don't trust data, they will never use it," Rogstad Guidera said. 

4. Guarantee Access and Protect Privacy

Parents and educators need role-based data access that presents timely information about individual students in a way that makes sense to them. But they also need to know that this data will be kept safe.

Both Georgia and Kentucky have done a great job of listening to people's needs in their state and using their data to make a difference, Rogstad Guidera said. For example, Georgia created a tunnel between its student information system and the state longitudinal data system so teachers and now parents can easily access student-level data. In Kentucky, data connections between early childhood up to the workforce helped schools better prepare their graduates for college coursework. 

"This wasn't a project, this was part of their vision for making sure that every child in their state was on track for student success," Rogstad Guidera said about Kentucky. 

The campaign plans to include a mix of surveys and evidence from states to measure how well they're doing on these recommendations.