11/20/2014 07:49 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2015

States Using Data to Pave the Path to Student Success

Every fall I look back on the progress states have made to ensure that data are used to help students achieve -- not just in the prior year, but since the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) first surveyed states in 2005 -- and I am astonished at how far states have come. This week DQC releases Data for Action 2014, its annual report and analysis, and it marks the 10th year we have surveyed all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their progress building and using education data systems to improve student achievement.

Creating policies and practices that give educators and families useful information about students to improve their learning is a monumental task. This work takes dedicated resources, dedicated time, and dedicated professionals -- lots of them. I am blown away by the strides made over the last nine years through strong leadership in states.

In 2005 few states had even the basic elements of data systems in place to begin developing good practices for using them; now all states have the ability to use high-quality data to empower educators, families, and everyone with a stake in education. With progress come new challenges as well. The nation is engaged in an important conversation about the value of student data and how to keep them safe from inappropriate access and use. State policymakers took on this crucial work, considering a total of 110 bills this year focused on safeguarding student data -- 30 of which became law.

Ensuring that data are kept out of the wrong hands is an urgent priority, and I believe there should be just as much urgency around getting data into the right ones. In many places, the people who stand to benefit most from education data -- parents and families -- have the least amount of information about their children's learning. With high quality data -- data that are timely and presented in useful ways -- parents will be empowered to make better informed education decisions. That is something all families deserve, no matter where they live.

Successful states are using DQC's 10 State Actions to Ensure Effective Data Use as a guide, which is evident in our survey results. Last year, Arkansas and Delaware became the first two states to achieve all 10 Actions, and this year they are joined by Kentucky. Stories of effective data use are emerging from these three states and across the country. It is another world from when we first started compiling state progress through the survey nine years ago, and the investments states have made are beginning to make a difference in classrooms.

That is what this is about. The data serve no purpose unless they are being used to help students, parents, educators, and everyone with a stake in education. But getting the right information into the right hands at the right time can make a world of difference for America's students. Because it is not really about the data -- it is about ensuring that every child has the opportunity to achieve his or her dream. With data lighting the way, all students can navigate their own path to success.