While this series generally focuses on state-level systems, the majority of the information also applies to district-level LDS efforts. Key differences between state and district LDS requirements, as well as best practices, are highlighted in boxes like this one.
While these guides aim to serve anyone involved in developing or using an LDS at the state and district levels, they were written with three key perspectives in mind: policy, content, and technology. Each of these perspectives roughly corresponds with an audience group instrumental in the effective design, implementation, and utilization of an LDS. These groups could be generally categorized as decisionmakers, users, and system designers, respectively. The needs and interests of these groups overlap somewhat, especially in terms of system use. In many ways, however, these audiences' perspectives differ in terms of what an LDS is and what value such a system offers. System designers focus mainly on the nuts and bolts of building the various system parts. Decisionmakers and other system users are more interested in the end products—the data—that they will be able to use for research and decisionmaking. While these differences can be beneficial to the successful development of an LDS—bringing a variety of perspectives, knowledge, and expertise to the table—effective collaboration and communication among these groups will be vital. By viewing an LDS holistically, this series seeks to bring the various groups to a common understanding of these systems and to clarify the roles of each in the development process. To that end, these guides will focus on areas where the stakeholders' needs and interests overlap, while also addressing language gaps that exist between them. Figure 2 illustrates the three primary perspectives and associated groups addressed in this series.
Decisionmakers and others who view an LDS from a policy perspective drive the mission and create the vision for the project. This group's members provide policy guidance, funding, and political leadership by sponsoring the development of effective education information systems and deciding if the final product will be a good investment of funds, whether federal, state, local, or private resources. They need to ask key questions up front about the system's desired functions and the decisions it should help them and other users make, from policy to instruction, as well as develop a clear plan for those who will create the system. This group includes elected officials, policymakers, governing boards, and organization leaders. It also includes "champions"—those who drive the LDS effort and work to create buy-in and win support for the system—who must see the big picture as well as understand the development process. These decisionmakers must also understand what their ongoing role in LDS development will be. Additionally, since they may also become system users once detailed, longitudinal data are available, they must know and convey what data need to be included to meet their information needs. This series will help this audience group establish a vision, mission, and expectations for their LDS.
Those who view the LDS in terms of content span a broad range of system users. This category includes individuals who drive the implementation of the policymakers' plans by helping to identify the questions the LDS should answer, and which data elements will be needed to answer these questions. This group comprises the program area staff, such as special education services, Title I, English Language Learner programs; school and district administrators, including principals, directors, and superintendents; and human resources staff who oversee LDS implementation, help define the requirements, provide professional development, and monitor the use of the data. Members of this group provide insights about education processes, the use of information in creating and enhancing educational assessments, and the effective teaching of all students. This broadly defined group also includes researchers and other data consumers, such as teachers and administrators; and even parents, students, and members of the public, many of whom may be involved in the design process and need to know what to do with the data when they become available. While the decisionmakers may determine whether the development of an information system was a good investment, this broader group of system users (which includes decisionmakers) will determine if the information is useful for improving education—either by utilizing or ignoring it. These guides will define this audience group's unique requirements to help its members fulfill the decisionmakers' vision, mission, and expectations for the LDS.
System developers who view the system from a technology perspective, these are the hardware and software experts who make the LDS "work." System developers, or builders, provide understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of information technology, as well as the developmental trends in technology and information management tools and processes. This group includes project managers, hardware engineers, software developers, network engineers, database designers, and graphic display experts. The system developers may know little about the processes of education, policy, or the information needs of the stakeholders who will ultimately use the system; but without their expertise, the effective and efficient storage and manipulation of education data would be impossible. Focused on the nuts and bolts, they build the system details and want to know how the data are to be housed, secured, and maintained. This series will enable this group's members to meet the unique requirements of the education data community.
Throughout this series, important terms and topics will be highlighted in sidebars. Notable subject matter will be easily identified by the following icons:
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