Those who remember the View-Master from childhood will recall the dazzling images they cast before the user’s eyes. While the image the View-Master presents is vivid and entertaining, it lacks the motion, sound, and character development of a movie. Movies progress over time, and deliver the viewer a complete, 2-hour picture of a series of events, rather than one image at a time. Therein lays the value of state data. District data, like the View-Master, provide a snapshot –not the whole story. State and district data together, along with data quality, security, tools, and analytics, provide stakeholders with a rich picture of student achievement and system performance over time that empowers improved decision making at every level.

Because districts are the agents that directly affect teaching and learning, states cannot succeed in the implementation of education priorities unless they actively engage their districts. This engagement requires state education agencies to evolve from their traditional role of primarily ensuring compliance with state and federal laws to a new role as service providers that meet the diverse needs of all districts in the state. Instead of simply collecting required data from districts, states can engage in a two-way partnership to collaborate with districts of all capacity levels and support local efforts to effectively use data. State data systems will not replace district systems, but enhance the data, tools and information currently available at the district level regardless of district capacity.

Collaborative relationships among states and districts to provide access to quality, robust data tailored to stakeholder needs is only the first step in ensuring effective data use to improve system performance and student achievement. When it comes to data, if you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Education stakeholders at every level have increasing information demands as we continue to raise our expectations of individuals, institutions and systems. Empowering stakeholders to use data effectively to inform decision making is a goal that everyone must now set their sights on in order to meet policy priorities, and improve system performance and student achievement. In order to do this, we must realign our existing conversations to place the end user’s evolving and increasing data needs at the center of every discussion. Stakeholder data use is dependent on stakeholder capacity to access and use data. Therefore leaders at every level must place an emphasis on not only continuing to invest in systems to meet user needs, but also on making investments in end user capacity to use data. In order to do so, state and district policymakers and practitioners will see a need to focus on capacity-building in three critical areas.

First, policymakers and decision makers at every level must continue to invest in data infrastructure and technology to ensure that this infrastructure is able to keep up with the increasing policy and practical demands for information and analysis. Second, they must rethink not only the roles and relationship between the state and districts, but also those among agencies across the pre-kindergarten to postsecondary to workforce (P-20/W) spectrum in order to ensure that information flows seamlessly, efficiently and effectively, and that the end users have the data they need, in the right format, when they need it. Third, they must focus on investing in people – including parents, educators, and school and district leaders – by ensuring that stakeholders at every level have the knowledge, training, resources, and time to use data effectively.

Tennessee has made strong efforts to engage educators in initiatives, such as new teacher evaluation systems, and training for the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. These types of efforts serve as a model for effective stakeholder engagement. When all states decide to continuously engage stakeholders to determine what their needs are, and build the capacity to use data at every level, we will see significant change in education nation-wide.