In July 2007, through NCES' Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) program, IES awarded grants to 13 states for longitudinal data systems, bringing the total number of state grantees to 27 and the total grant amount awarded since 2005 to more than $115 million. SLDS also works with state education agencies in a coordinating role, bringing states together to share information and best practices.
"There is a lot of knowledge to be shared among the states, and it's very useful," said Corey Chatis, director of Data Quality for the Tennessee Department of Education, one of the original SLDS grantees. "We had all of this data before," she said. "We are not collecting anything new. It's just that we've never had the ability to design a system from square one that integrated all this information in one consolidated place. And these systems are designed for reporting."
Florida, for example, is using part of its IES grant to establish six data marts, which will provide key stakeholders with interactive reports in areas such as finance, student learning, and teacher effectiveness. The first data mart to go live, the Teacher Pipeline, will enable officials to better understand the state's teacher workforce by collecting data on Florida high school graduates who pursue in-state college degrees in education, including how many of those students graduate with education degrees, how many go into the state teaching workforce, who they teach, where they teach, and how long they remain there.
In Arkansas, the SLDS program is already providing valuable student, staff, and financial data, resulting in efficiencies and savings. In its first year, the program allowed the state's school districts to query financial management systems directly and automated financial reporting through the use of regularly scheduled e-mails to administrators. In 2007, for the first time, Arkansas teachers were able to access detailed academic histories online of all their current students. In addition, this newly linked and enriched data allowed the state to identify duplicate student enrollments, resulting in a savings of nearly $2 million. Arkansas also plans to use its longitudinal data system for tracking, analyses, and budget decisions, including aiding the Arkansas legislature in deciding how best to allocate resources for particular education programs.
When IES began the SLDS program, the idea of longitudinal data systems was gaining popularity, said Tennessee's Corey Chatis, but "IES added steam to the movement." Without IES support, she added, Tennessee "would not be able to move at the pace we are moving."
Another organization adding momentum to the longitudinal data system movement is CALDER—the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. Established in 2006 through a five-year, $10 million IES grant, CALDER is one of NCER's National Research and Development Centers.
CALDER's mission is to "capitalize on longitudinal individual-level student and teacher data across several states to investigate how state and local policies—especially teacher, governance, and accountability policies—affect teachers and students." The organization also aims to "inform education policy leaders through analyzing data on individual students and teachers over time." In October, CALDER held its first annual conference, which attracted more than 120 participants.
One of CALDER's research priorities is to examine the effect of state and district policies on teacher recruitment, retention, and assignment. Longitudinal data systems are critical to that process.
"Because we have data over time, we can look at the performance of students and the performance of teachers before and after a policy takes effect to see if it makes a difference," said Jane Hannaway, director of Education Policy at the Urban Institute and the overall principal investigator of the CALDER project. "Because we have data on all students and all teachers in a state, we can see how effects might vary for different students, teachers, or types of schools. Because we're working in multiple states, we can also test the robustness and interaction of policies across different political and jurisdictional contexts."
With the continued emphasis on data-driven accountability in schools, longitudinal data systems are increasingly seen as the data tools of the future. Twenty-three of the 24 states that have not received SLDS grants, for example, have submitted letters of intent or applications for the SLDS program, according to Kashka Kubzdela, SLDS coordinator. "Interest is great across the country," she said.
There is also interest in linking states' data with NCES longitudinal studies. Such linkage could not be accomplished without overcoming budgetary, confidentiality, and other obstacles, but "this may be the future for longitudinal studies," said Jeffrey A. Owings, an NCES associate commissioner.
IES director Russ Whitehurst sees longitudinal data systems as a significant innovation. "The availability to the education research community of large administrative datasets containing longitudinal data on individual students linked to characteristics of their teachers, schools, and communities is relatively recent and very important," he said. "The wide availability of public health data has allowed epidemiologists to relate the occurrence of disease to environmental and personal characteristics that vary by place, time, and subgroup and in so doing spur appreciable advances in the health of the nation. Likewise, longitudinal datasets in education are allowing education researchers to uncover relationships between characteristics of schooling and student outcomes that promise both to enhance the effectiveness of education policies and to inform a new generation of research studies."
Find more information on the SLDS program and CALDER and NCER's Research and Development Centers.