Education meets big data – statewide longitudinal data systems

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Yes, its true. Education has big data and always has. One perfect example? Statewide longitudinal data systems. Every state has one that tracks information on students from preschool until they enter the workforce (so some states call them P-20W). Think about all the schools and all the students across your state, now add 20 years of enrollment and test data, plus a whole lot more. It's lots of big data, right? Let me tell you more about these data systems in this and future blog posts.

A statewide longitudinal data system (SLDS) tracks student data from preschool through college and into the workforce across the state. While many states have had databases for years, there are some distinguishing characteristics of SLDSs that are important to note:

  • An SLDS tracks and maintains student- and staff-level data across the entire state (not simply district-wide or county-wide).
  • An SLDS links data across entities and over time, providing a robust and complete academic history for each student, as well as aggregated data about subgroups of students.
  • An SLDS makes these data available to researchers and other educational agencies for analysis and reporting.
  • An SLDS provides current data to stakeholders in a secure manner and with unique identifiers that ensure student privacy.

The overall key characteristic is the ability to see student-level data over time and to use these data in the aggregate to spot trends in order to improve the state education system. All in all, SLDSs provide a huge opportunity for the educational system at large.

For several years, the federal government has been encouraging states by offering grants to develop and implement SLDSs to track and analyze their data. You can even see what and how your own state is doing with their SLDS and how much money they have been awarded. These systems are also evolving, as some states are joining forces to create multi-state SLDSs.

Like many big data systems, all of the data that the state education system needs exists, but they’re not all connected or in compatible formats. Student and educational data are often siloed - housed within different agencies - and pose many problems for states in collecting and creating reports on the data and, of course, using data to solve issues. So, states often see the need to unite these student data systems, and a prime way to make these data useful is through a statewide longitudinal data system.

To learn more about common challenges SLDSs face along with best practices regarding data governance, standards, and privacy, check out the book, "Implement, Improve and Expand Your Statewide Longitudinal Data System" by Armistead Sapp and Jamie McQuiggan, or read an excerpt of Chapter 1 to learn what it takes to implement (or improve) a successful SLDS.

And stay tuned for more upcoming posts regarding SLDSs.

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Georgia Mariani

Principal Product Marketing Manager

Georgia Mariani is the Principal Product Marketing Manager for the Education Industry.

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