A Hunger for Information: California’s Options to Meet its Statewide Education Data Needs

June 2018

The fragmentation of California’s education data systems makes it nearly impossible for the state to assess how well its students are progressing from high school, to and through college, and into the workforce. A Hunger for Information: California’s Options to Meet its Statewide Education Data Needs explores the data systems in other states and issues criteria for California to consider when designing its own system.To identify and help close persistent opportunity and outcomes gaps, it argues, the state should establish a statewide longitudinal data system (SLDS) that links the databases and prioritizes transparency, student privacy, and the public good. To manage this system, California should develop a state data agency or office tasked with managing a centralized data warehouse as the best option for understanding and improving equity and overall performance in education.

Reviewing the systems implemented by other states, authors Colleen Moore and Kathy Reeves Bracco find that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to designing an SLDS and each state must develop a system that meets its own history, culture and capacity. However, they identify several factors crucial to an effective and useful SLDS: 1) participation of K-12 schools, public postsecondary education systems, and the state workforce agency; 2) transparency about data security, access, and use; and 3) legislation to formalize the structure and ensure compliance and continuity.

A Centralized Data Warehouse Best Serves the Public Interest

Moore and Bracco find that the primary challenges to creating a new SLDS in California are political rather than technical. The individual sectors already collect the high-quality student and workforce data needed to build out a P-20W (preschool through workforce) system, and the technical challenges to creating such a system have been overcome by other states. In developing an SLDS, however, California will need to consider both its data governance (i.e., where are the data housed and managed?) and structure (i.e., what is the best model for linking the data?).

In considering these questions, the authors developed a set of policy criteria to guide California in selecting among options for the governance and structure of an SLDS: public good, data security, data quality, cost and time, technical feasibility, political feasibility, and sustainability. Based on these criteria, they recommend that:

  • California should create a data office in a state agency, or create a new state data agency, with the mission of developing and managing an SLDS. This state data office/agency would have the benefit of serving as a neutral manager of public education data.
  • The data office/agency should develop a centralized data warehouse, create standard reports and data dashboards for various audiences, and manage access to the data by external researchers. A centralized model is more efficient and offers better access to data, compared with a “federated” system, which requires a more cumbersome process to link the data each time it is used.

California would likely benefit from a new education coordinating body, but developing a data system is not contingent on that issue. In addition, a centralized model could incorporate the ongoing work of the California Workforce Development Board to create a longitudinal data system for workforce education and training programs in order to provide a more complete picture of educational progress and outcomes in California.

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This report is the fourth and final research brief of the series California Education Policy, Student Data and the Quest to Improve Student Progress, which examines California’s approach to gathering and sharing data on student progress through the public education system.