This handbook is one in a series of data handbooks published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). It continues a half-century's tradition of sharing the best practices in data collection and reporting with the schools, school districts, and state agencies that are our partners in providing good information to manage, assess, and guide elementary and secondary education.
In addition to this volume, NCES has produced the Handbooks Online tool to improve the consistency of data definitions and data maintenance, so that education data can be more accurately aggregated and analyzed. Handbooks Online contain data items, definitions, and a system of data item codes at the student, staff, school, school district, and state levels. The Handbooks Online tool is updated as needed and is available at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/handbook/.
The data handbooks do not include every possible data element. They are intended, rather, as a set of data element definitions and suggestions for structuring a report or an electronic record system. However, every attempt has been made to include all of the data elements routinely required for federal education reporting. The rationale for this is that if these items are part of a comprehensive information system used for the daily management of schools and districts, they can be reported with minimal additional burden on teachers and principals.
NCES and representatives of state and local education agencies, as well as members of the research and statistical communities, have worked together through the National Cooperative Education Statistics System to improve the quality and comparability of data used for education policy decisions at all levels of government. This handbook, like the other data handbooks published by NCES, was written through the efforts of education professionals from a range of backgrounds. Their input ensures that such products are useful for managing the daily business of schools and districts as well as for identifying the information needed for program monitoring and statistical purposes.