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Great Education Needs Great Standards…and Data

Sep 27, 2017, 10:54 AM

Otha Thornton
National PTA President

As the nation’s largest volunteer child advocacy association with more than four million members who are parents, students, and teachers, National PTA is uniquely positioned to be an influential and credible voice in advancing the Common Core State Standards. We have held discussions across the country, and have even developed an online toolkit to provide information to those who wish to advocate for Common Core.

But even as a staunch supporter of Common Core, we understand that there are still questions surrounding the standards, including a great deal of misinformation. Some of that misinformation is focused on the data collection aspects of Common Core.

I think that it is important to make it clear that the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, No Child Left Behind legislation, amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the Education Reform Sciences Act of 2002, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act all prohibit the creation of a federal database with a student’s personally identifiable information (i.e., name, place and date of birth, SSN, or any other information that could be used to distinguish an individual’s identity). Federal law prohibits the reporting of aggregate data that could allow individuals to be identified. Common Core doesn’t change that. It doesn’t require any data collection beyond what is already being collected in No Child Left Behind.

The standards are a set of grade-level expectations for what students should know and be able to do. Data plays no part in Common Core. However, National PTA does recognize the benefits of data use, which is why we are working with the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) to produce a “What Every Parent Should Be Asking about Education Data and Privacy.” The goal of this parent’s guide is to empower mothers, fathers and caregivers with questions that they can ask about education data and student privacy. The front side of the guide provides questions, examples, and tips to help parents demand value from the data their state and district collect. The back side of the resource has questions parents can ask to be confident that their child’s data are being protected.

As a parent, I understand the desire to have the best education for our children. An important part of building a great education system is using data to help form best practices that are effective and results driven. Data-driven decision making for teachers is the practice of using information—including test scores, behavior, attendance, past performance, and multiple other student-level indicators—to inform professional judgment to tailor instruction and improve student learning. States have always collected data, and will continue collect data, and independently decide where that data goes and how it will be protected. The fact is that, without good data, our educators are operating in the dark. Accurate data makes intensive improvements and turnaround strategies in schools possible.

So as you advocate for Common Core, also become an advocate for data. We are all education stakeholders. Becoming literate on the positive uses of data collection will ensure that we all understand how valuable it can be in improving outcomes for students. And in the end, isn’t that what we all are looking to achieve?