Skip Navigation
January 2010

From the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

Longitudinal Data to Create Unfolding Story of Teachers' Careers

Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study (BTLS)

Once the BTLS data becomes available, you will be able to answer such questions as…

  • Are beginning teachers who received formal mentoring from their school or district less likely to leave the profession or change schools in the first few years of their teaching career?
  • Do mobility rates of teachers both within and outside of school districts change over time?
  • Why do teachers leave the teaching profession and which factors have greater importance at various stages in teachers' careers and lives?
  • What proportion of teachers return to teaching after a break in their teaching career?
  • What motivating factors bring former teachers back to the profession?

Did you know that about 10 percent of first-year public school teachers do not return to teaching the following year?

If you're curious about what happens to these teachers and to those who continue to teach, then you'll want to know more about our new Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study (BTLS). This important new study of a cohort of beginning public school teachers initially interviewed as part of the 2007–08 Schools and Staffing Survey will create an unfolding "story" by following this cohort of first-year teachers for a decade.

The longitudinal survey will provide you with a better understanding of the impact that different life events have on teachers' careers (e.g., from getting married, moving to a new location, or starting a family). It will also help you to understand how school and/or district characteristics and policies affect teacher satisfaction, and how teachers respond to transitions in their lives and careers (e.g., such as moving to a different school, changing the grade levels or subject taught, becoming a mentor, transitioning into a K–12 administration position, or exiting the teaching field). This longitudinal survey will contribute to policymakers' understanding of teachers and of teachers' careers as they enter, leave, or re-enter the teaching workforce and make important career and life decisions.

To learn more about the survey and when data will be available, go to or call Freddie Cross at (202) 502-7489. You can also email your questions to her at

New Kindergarten Study to Be Launched in Upcoming School Year

Early Childhood Longitundial Study (ECLS)

In the upcoming school year, NCES will launch a new study of U.S. kindergartners. The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS), Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 will follow more than 20,000 children in over 900 schools across the country from kindergarten through fifth grade. This study will provide researchers and policymakers with current information about children's readiness to begin school, their transition into school, and their progression through fifth grade. The survey will also gather information about the adults in their lives, including their parents, teachers, school administrators, and before- and after-school care providers.

This is the third in a series of longitudinal studies of young children conducted by NCES that examine child development, school readiness, and early school experiences. Just like its predecessors, this study also advances the research by providing updated information and addressing recent changes in education policy—changes such as the implementation of No Child Left Behind, the growth in school choice and state-funded prekindergarten programs, and shifts in the demographic profile of young students, in particular rising numbers of Hispanic children and English language learners.

Visit to learn more about this new study and previous ECLS studies, and to browse the ECLS bibliography to see how researchers have and are using the data. Send your questions about the ECLS to

Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems Initiative: Director Nancy Smith on Her Role, the Challenges and the Opportunities Presented by Longitudinal Data Systems

FAQs about SLDS

Director Nancy Smith

Your role as director of Longitudinal Data Systems Initiatives is a new position for the National Center for Education Statistics. Describe your new responsibilities.
Primarily, I oversee the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) Grant program. This program has awarded $265 million to 41 states and the District of Columbia in cooperative grants since 2005 to aid state education agencies in the design, development, and implementation of SLDSs. In 2010, we will make another $245 million available to aid states in SLDS development and expansion to postsecondary and workforce data. In addition, I am leading the Department's efforts to develop common data standards for use by districts, states, and higher education institutions for a core set of K–12 and postsecondary data elements to enable comparability of statistics across states, increase the ability to share data across districts and states, and reduce burden on districts and higher education institutions. I am also participating on an interagency task force between the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services to develop cross-agency data sharing policies and practices.

You also worked in a similar role at the Data Quality Campaign, where you worked with state education leaders to build comprehensive data systems. How has your outreach to states changed, given your new role as a federal director?
While I still have the opportunity to share stories about the power of longitudinal data, I now have a great opportunity to actually provide services to help states build their systems and establish policies and practices that make full use of their SLDSs. For example, I am leading efforts to develop materials for states that outline state-of-the-art privacy protection practices and another document that provides a framework for connecting SLDS data, researchers and policymakers to ensure thorough and appropriate use of data by policymakers. I also review and comment on proposed grant language and legislation about state data systems and help to make the language about data systems more clear and accurate. With our SLDS staff, Tate Gould and Emily Anthony, we are able to create many opportunities for states to learn from each other and outside experts.

How will the infusion of federal dollars affect the development of these state longitudinal data systems? Will states still have the freedom to create systems that reflect their own needs and political considerations?
The SLDS grant program has played a large role in the development of state data systems over the past 4 years, especially given the severe budget limitations faced by state governments. While the role of the SLDS funds is to supplement state support, in some cases the state education agency has received little financial support from their state for the development or expansion of their SLDS. I believe that without the SLDS grant program over the past 4 years, many states would still be close to square one. While there are certain requirements in terms of data system features and types of data collected, the SLDS grant program does not prescribe to states the scope or design of their data systems. In addition to standard activities such as creating unique student identifiers and data warehouses, some states are using funds to develop professional development for teachers on using data. Others are developing electronic transcripts, and some are creating online data quality training and certification modules. There is quite a bit of variety in how states propose to use their SLDS funds.

A recent report released by the Data Quality Campaign indicated that every state is on track to have a longitudinal data system that follows student progress from preschool through college by 2011. The report suggests that many states will still lack critical elements that could better inform policy discussions. Where are the missing pieces? What are the challenges states face?
Most states have used SLDS funds to build the architecture and infrastructure of a student-level/staff-level data collection and storage system. That is, most efforts over the past 4 years have been focused on Information Technology activities such as hardware, software, and programming solutions. The ultimate goal of the program, though, is to use data to inform decision making at the local and state levels—for example, to find out what programs are or are not working and intervene where needed, to use an early warning indicator system to identify at-risk students and provide the necessary services, to inform resource allocation decisions at the district and state levels. The staff and skill set that are needed to build the data system aren't the same as what is needed to analyze the data and know how to use it to inform policy and practice. Now, states need to shift their focus from data collection to analyzing and using the data. This will require that states prioritize the data and policy questions that they want answered—such as, How do we improve the graduation rates? Which students are identified as at-risk in early grades, and how do we intervene? What programs are effective with which students?—and analyze the data appropriately. Many states don't have the necessary analytical staff to address these questions, so they will likely need to find ways to work with outside researchers/analysts to fully mine the data they now collect. Another big activity involves getting the most helpful data to teachers and principals on a frequent basis so that data can inform classroom practices and policies and help improve student achievement. Turning all of this longitudinal data into useful information for a variety of audiences (e.g., teachers, superintendents, state policymakers, the public) is the next big challenge.

Building a database is one thing. But states still need to understand how to untangle these data to best help schools in their improvement efforts. How can your office—and the Department of Education—help build capacity among state leaders in using this data and sharing it with practitioners and policymakers?
Indeed, making sense of the data is the next big hurdle. The SLDS program and the Department as a whole are poised to help states with this. The cooperative grant program provides a great opportunity for us to help states build capacity by providing many venues for states to learn from each other and experts in the field. Some of the resources provided by the SLDS grant program include monthly grant webinars, an annual grantee conference, expert technical assistance consultants, the LDS Share page of our website ( and a personnel exchange network. Besides the SLDS grant program, the Department sponsors the EdFacts program, the development of common data standards, the development of guidance materials (privacy/confidentiality guidelines are coming soon) and more—all in an effort to support state and local education agencies improve student achievement.