State of Arkansas Called A Pioneer In Data Use

Arkansas has been recognized by a national advocacy group as a pioneer in practical use of state-collected data in education.

The recognition comes from the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit founded in 2005 to support effective use of data in state governments.

Each year since 2005 the campaign has released a report, called “Data for Action,” categorizing all 50 states by their data use.

In 2009, the DQC launched its “10 state actions,” which detail 10 ways each state can get maximum efficiency out of its data. (See graphic above.)

This year’s report was released last week. The average number of actions achieved by states this year was 6.6, up from 4.7 in 2011. And for the first time, this year saw two states fulfill all 10 actions: Arkansas and Delaware.

“This accomplishment is a testament to the consistent and collaborative leadership that has been a hallmark of how these states have responded to the needs of their citizens and have thus made effective data use a reality,” the release noted.

“What it really demonstrates is the leadership, commitment and vision that the state leaders have in those two states,” said Paige Kowalski, director of state policy and advocacy for the DQC. “I’ve worked with Arkansas for eight years, and over any state I’ve worked with besides Delaware, that commitment has been there since day one. Regardless of who is the governor or the school chief or who is in charge of data, there’s been this belief that data is a critical part of moving forward in increasing higher education.”

The data being measured by the campaign goes back to when the No Child Left Behind Act started requiring extensive data reporting by schools.

“Generally speaking, that data collected is in order to comply with state or federal law,” Kowalski said. “Like in order to receive your Title I dollars, you need to send your enrollment numbers by school and your number of highly qualified teachers, things like that.”

Schools started publishing those numbers publicly, Kowalski said, and in 2005 the DQC came in to start encouraging more creative use of the data.

“What we’re looking for are what states are doing with that information beyond just the reports they’re required to do,” she said. “Like making data work for families — high school feedback reports, early warnings, information getting into the hands of teachers and parents.”

Good use of data, Kowalski said, is doing things like linking K-12 transcripts to performance in college to understand what classes actually prepare students for higher education.

A practical example:

“One of our favorite stories, and one of the earliest, was from Arkansas,” Kowalski said. “They had linked up their state K-12 system with the scholarship application system. Kids were going into scholarships and applying for them, but in order to determine eligibility, they had to get their transcripts.” But the system often failed, Kowalski said. “They lost a lot of kids at that point,” she said.

The solution involved connecting high school transcripts with the scholarship application system, Kowalski said. “So they connected those two systems so when they applied for that scholarship, at the point where it verifies eligibility, it can link to the data system and determine eligibility right there,” she said, “and they’re done.”

The result was a jump in completed applications and a subsequent increase in enrollment in higher education in the state, she said.

“That was hugely valuable,” she said. “That’s a high-level thing.”