The U.S. Government has made the collection of large-scale individual-level longitudinal data for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade and beyond a major national priority, and has to date invested $500 million (with another $100 million slated for awards during fiscal year 2012) in helping states to develop the capacity to collect, maintain, and use these data systems for the purposes of data-driven decision-making. The Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems Program of the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences has provided grants to 41 states and the District of Columbia, with some states (e.g., New York and Texas) receiving over $25 million over the first four rounds of awards. The stated purpose of these awards is to “enhance the ability of states to efficiently and accurately manage, analyze, and use education data, including individual student records,” and to “help states, districts, schools, educators, and other stakeholders to make data-informed decisions to improve student learning and outcomes; as well as to facilitate research to increase student achievement and close achievement gaps.”
While most states’ data collection efforts are still in their infancy, some of the states with the longest-running student-level longitudinal data systems have begun to display some of the potential that these datasets offer for evaluating education policies and classroom practice and for monitoring student growth and identifying students in need of remediation. The National Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER), first funded by the Institute of Education Sciences in 2006, has conducted a large number of evaluations of state and district-level policies in a set of partner states (Florida, Indiana, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Washington, and the District of Columbia.) In addition, a number of other researchers have used these data systems to conduct policy and practice-relevant research in a variety of locations, predominantly in Florida, North Carolina and Texas, the three large states with the best-developed infrastructures for managing data and sharing them with the research community. In a number of instances, this research has resulted in changes in education policies and local practices.
However, while the research emerging from CALDER and other research teams highlights many of the benefits of using population-based individual-level longitudinal data to track student progress, this research also makes clear the limitations of relying entirely on data collected by state and local education agencies to make decisions regarding education policies and practices.