I recently had the pleasure of hearing Joyce Elliot, former educator and current Arkansas state senator, talk about the value of using data in education. She discussed the importance of empowering all stakeholders to use the data relevant to them. But just who are education stakeholders?

In short, everyone. In the education policy world, stakeholders is our way of lumping together every person affected by the education system into one easy word. It encompasses governors, state board chairs, legislators, superintendents, school board members, principals, teachers, parents, and students—not to mention the public at large. All stakeholders should have access to and benefit from the education data relevant to them to answer the questions they need answered. (In other words, a teacher and Joe the Plumber need different stuff.) The nation is making progress in this area. But we still need to ensure that the people who touch education on that up-close-and-personal level every day—teachers and students—not only have access but also use data to impact learning.

Again, the nation is making progress in providing education data to everyone who needs it, especially teachers. This is evidenced by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which reports that while only 48 percent of teachers reported having access to student data in 2005, 74 percent of teachers reported having access to these data only two years later in 2007.* This is amazing progress in such a short amount of time! The flip side (and there always is one) is that the NBER study goes on to say that while teachers have greater access to data, they still don’t always use those data to improve classroom instruction. This shows us that we haven’t yet done a great job making all these wonderful data systems built by states and districts useful to teachers’ everyday practice. We ask a lot of teachers. As I discussed last month, making change in the classroom takes time and resources. Research shows that teachers are more likely to use the data provided to them when schools and districts have developed a culture of data use—with strong leadership supportive of data, sufficient professional development on how to access and use data, belief among teachers in the validity of data, and time for teachers to use easy-to-navigate data systems. That’s not too much to ask is it?

We have done a great deal of work to ensure that teachers can access the data they need; it is the data usage piece that we still need to work on. For students, however, there is still some access work to be done. Often when we at DQC discuss data access, when we mention that students need access to their own data, I see people’s faces turn to momentary confusion. Students need access to data?! Yes, yes they do. Consider this: students spend untold hours accessing data about their lives through Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (just kidding), and other services. In fact, students go straight to the internet to search for resources before they do anything, and yet, we do not empower them to access their own education data, to become partners in meeting all the new expectations policymakers are setting for them. Provided with the right data tools, students can place their academic achievement in the context of their own goals—whether that be college, career, military, or another path. While we support our teachers by creating a culture around data use to improve student achievement, we should also be developing systems and cultures that empower students to be partners in their own success.

And speaking of students and their own data, check out this Education Week article about a high school senior who found his school’s student grade portal so inadequate that he just built his own. Believe me, these kids can handle their data!

*Tyler, John H. If You Build It Will They Come? Teacher Use of Student Performance Data on a Web-Based Tool NBER Working Paper No. 17486 October 2011