The best way to ensure the quality of data is to get them right in the first place, and to prioritize quality throughout the information life cycle. This approach relies on staff in the school as well as at the district and state levels. It starts at the source, typically in the school where teachers, clerks, and other personnel enter data. From the school, the data are sent to the district, where they are validated and/or audited; then to the state agency and federal government, where further quality assurance processes take place.
The Forum has more detailed information…
...about improving data quality:
In addition to the processes that check the flow of data "up" the ladder from the school, quality also relies on
effective governance and communication back "down" again. Establishing effective data governance at the state
and district levels provides a mechanism to help resolve problems and prevent finger-pointing or issue avoidance.
Education agencies must move from ad hoc data management models to strategies that bring together all stakeholders
from across the enterprise, create key governance groups, assign clearly defined roles and responsibilities,
secure agency data, and ensure the data help achieve organizational goals. (For more information on data governance,
see chapters 1, 2, and 3.)
Data quality certification
The Kansas State Department of Education has been a leader in improving data quality at the local level.
The state has created a professional development program that trains and certifies a range of school and
district staff on data quality practices and techniques, as well as software applications.
At the local level, where the life cycle of information begins, the data "creators"—the school teacher, counselor, nurse or secretary entering student data to the district or regional service agency; or vendor staff member building a report for the state agency—must be trained to ensure they produce high-quality data. This training should include best practices and procedures for creating and entering data; and the use of the technology employed to collect, edit, and report data. Staff should also be very familiar with all relevant policies, data standards, reporting requirements, and timelines.
Staff preparation should teach more than policies and procedures. Professional development programs, and ongoing communications throughout the enterprise, should help everyone understand why data are so important. Staff need to know how their handling of data affects the use of those data at all levels, shaping decisions from school funding to individual student learning. They must understand why the data are collected, how teachers and decisionmakers use the information, and how the work relates to the money the school or district receives. Understanding their uses will help staff appreciate why data must be accurate and timely, and provide an incentive to strictly adhere to procedures.
If staff see data collection and reporting simply as chores to perform for an authority, they may not be sufficiently motivated to go the extra mile to ensure quality. To create an incentive to improve data quality, agencies must ensure data are used down to the school office and classroom levels. For instance, data will be more useful to practitioners if they have access to student-level data with reporting and analysis tools, or dashboards. District administrators can access the data to see how their schools compare with similar districts in the state. Teachers can view data in real time to inform lesson plans and tailor instructional strategies. Additionally, state agencies may turn the submitted data into useful reports for schools and districts perhaps enrollment lists or comparisons with other schools and districts. If data creators see that the data are used for high-stakes calculations to make their jobs easier, or to hold them accountable, they will have greater incentives to ensure the data are of high quality.
The flow of data from schools and districts to the state LDS should include several safeguards to ensure quality. For example, on the way from the school secretary to the district and on to the state data system, certain procedures and mechanisms should be in place to check the data’s quality, identifying and resolving anomalies. Ideally, data should be checked for quality before they are loaded into the collecting systems. Some states use auditing mechanisms to check submitted data for problems, and validation reports to alert staff if they find any. Audits may include, but are not limited to, the application of business rules that