Implementing the Common Education Data Standard Series – 2

Concepts for Policymakers
Gary West

Introduction

Across the nation, leading educators and policy makers have indicated they want to transform their state education agencies into service agencies.  The state education leaders want to provide services to their districts and schools in ways that help transform K-12 education into successful learning environments.  This transformation would mean that each state education agency (SEA) would change its main focus from enforcement of and compliance with federal and state regulations and would include specific focus on providing services and resources that would have direct impact on teaching and learning.

This would be a major change in the way education leaders see their state agencies working to transform K-12 education.

As part of their collaborative strategic planning for 2011-2014 through the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) [1], the chief state school officers have identified six specific goals, with action strategies, that support their efforts to transform their agencies.  Those goals include: 

  • implementation of college- and career-ready learning standards [2],
  • new and meaningful accountability systems [3],
  • support for an effective education workforce [4],
  • data and information systems that inform next steps at every level of learning [5],
  • high-quality options and opportunities for all learners [6], and
  • capacity to manage emerging education issues [7].

For your state education agency to be successful in achieving those goals, it must focus its resources to meet the needs of its districts, schools, teachers, and learners.  In order to allocate those resources effectively and efficiently, your SEA will need data to help it identify the real needs, plan for meeting those needs, and deploy appropriate services and resources to educators and learners.

It’s no longer sufficient for your state education agency (your state’s department of education or public instruction) to use only aged, aggregated, and “convenience” data.  To succeed in meeting its goals and in providing meaningful services and resources, your SEA will need new, better, and current data.  This means that your SEA must expand its collection of data and must provide value-added services, through analytic applications that use those data, to its local districts, schools, and classrooms.

This will be a major shift in the way your SEA will view and use data and information in the transformation of K‑12 education.

Your state education agency will want to identify the services and resources it wants to provide and will want to collaborate with its local school districts to determine the additional data needed to provide those services and resources.  Then your SEA, in collaboration with its districts and schools, will want to develop the strategies and processes for collecting and using those data in ways to inform teaching and learning.  Also, by identifying and using the appropriate data, your SEA and its districts can make traditional reporting and accountability requirements more meaningful within the teaching and learning process. 

In the past, most K-12 education data in your state have been used, at the state and local levels, to report what has already happened and to create labels around those who have been involved in education.  It is important to note that your state education agency wants to change that; it wants data to inform next steps and to guide improvement of teaching and learning across your state.  Your SEA wants data – and meaningful information from those data – that all education stakeholders can understand and use to improve learner performance [8].

The first step toward making that happen is the adoption and implementation, by your SEA, of the Common Education Data Standard (CEDS) [9] on which meaningful educational discussion, planning, and action can be based.  Through adoption and implementation of the Common Education Data Standard, your SEA will build its own capacity to use data in meaningful ways, communicate those data and analyses of those data to its stakeholders, and collaboratively work with other state education agencies in appropriate ways.  Implementing the Common Education Data Standard will create a common data language and will enhance the appropriate use of those data to support the transformation of K-12 education in your state and across our nation. 

Without the Common Education Data Standard, education data and resources will remain what those have been to date – “digital babble” [10] for most educators and learners.  The Common Education Data Standard will provide the common language through which learners, educators, policy makers, parents, and other stakeholders can talk with each other – in ways that everyone can understand.

The adoption and implementation of the Common Education Data Standard by your SEA can help drive policy to facilitate the collection, analysis, and use of data to inform teaching and learning and to meet other data needs at the school, district, and state levels.

I will contend to you that, after the implementation of the Common Core State Standards [11], the most important change in K-12 education in the next decade and beyond will be the implementation of the Common Education Data Standard. 

I know that members of the assessment consortia [12] are likely to take exception to that statement – their work is especially important in the development of meaningful assessments of learner performance related to the Common Core State Standards.  But I’ll also contend that those assessments cannot change education unless individual learner performance on those assessments can be linked to the Common Core State Standards, to the effectiveness of resources used to create learning related to those standards, to the preparation of educators who will facilitate learning related to those standards, to the effectiveness of professional development related to facilitation of learning based on those standards, to the measures of accountability for learning, and to other important factors that will have significant impact on the systemic transformation of education for each learner.

The Common Education Data Standard is the foundation of your state education agency’s efforts to build datasets and systems that can do all of those things effectively, efficiently, and economically.

K-12 Education Standards

Over the last several years, state education agencies, working collaboratively and with their individual communities, have developed meaningful standards to guide and support the transformation of K‑12 education.  Among those standards are the Common Core State Standards, the Model Core Teaching Standards [13], the Education Leadership Policy Standards [14], the Standards for Professional Learning [15], and others.  These standards form the foundation of SEA efforts to improve learner achievement and success through the transformation of educational experiences, resources, and opportunities.

In addition to forming the foundation for transforming teaching and learning, standards create the common vocabulary through which policy makers and practitioners can communicate and plan for action.  Common standards, and the accompanying common vocabulary, create capacity within your SEA to work on its unique and specific academic and operational needs as well as creating the capacity to collaborate with other SEAs in those areas where common interests and needs can be addressed collectively.

With that in mind, the Common Education Data Standard can be added to the list of critical education standards that form the foundation for transforming K-12 education.  The transformation of K-12 education (as well as early learning experiences and postsecondary opportunities) requires comprehensive data that can support the application of analytics to create and provide reliable information and relevant resources to teachers and learners in your state.

The Common Education Data Standard

In January 2012, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) [16] released Version 2 of the Common Education Data Standard (CEDS 2.0) [17].  CEDS 2.0 has been the work of the CEDS Stakeholder Group [18], which was commissioned by NCES in early 2011 to expand and enhance CEDS 1.0.  That group had approximately 55 members that represent schools, districts, state education agencies, state government, the data and information industry, education application developers, educational content providers, other standards bodies (including the School Interoperability Framework Association (SIFA) [19] and the Postsecondary Electronic Standards Council (PESC) [20]), and other communities (including CCSSO, the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) [21], the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) [22], early learning agencies, and others).

The Common Education Data Standard, Version 2, contains the following components:

  •  A data dictionary contains specific data elements that have been identified as essential for meeting the data goals of early learning agencies, state education agencies, and institutions of higher education. 
  • A logical data model describes the relationships of the data elements within individual records that might be stored as part of physical datasets (as one example, the logical data model describes what a complete student record should like). 
  • A set of tools to help state education agencies, early learning organizations, and institutions of higher education (IHEs) map their existing datasets to the Common Education Data Standard and to analyze data in ways that can inform policy and action.
  • An XML schema that defines one way the data can be stored in a physical “machine-readable” format (in an operational data store).

More technical information about CEDS 2.0 components, interactive resources, and tools can be found online at http://ceds.ed.gov/.

While the concept of a common education data standard has been around for several decades, CEDS 2.0 is the first practical and implementable version.  Earlier versions had data dictionaries which, as the term implies, simply named and defined data elements that were commonly used in education.  CEDS 2.0 is the first version to include a logical data model (which defines how the data elements might be related in specific records) and an XML schema (which defines what the data might look like after being converted to and stored in the Common Education Data Standard formats).  CEDS 2.0 is also accompanied by a set of tools that can help your agency map its existing data to the standard.

For the first time, the Common Education Data Standard can be implemented in a consistent manner within and across state education agencies.  Through implementation, your SEA can create a dataset that can be the foundation for its analytics and services to districts, schools, classrooms, teachers, and learners. 

In addition, your state education agency can work collaboratively with other SEAs, as needed, because each SEAs datasets will be the same in structure, elements, and stored values – making that collaboration effective, efficient, and economically feasible.

The adoption and implementation of the Common Education Data Standard by the SEAs in all states creates the capacity to use data and provide services that have never been possible before.  Subsequent versions of CEDS will expand on CEDS 2.0; thus, work done in implementing CEDS 2.0 will form the foundation for improving and expanding the Common Education Data Standard in the future, as needed by educators and learners.

Considerations for Implementation by your State Education Agency

Implementation of the Common Education Data Standard must be considered in terms of your SEA’s goals, strategies, resources, and long-term impact on the transformation of education within the state.  The following are important considerations in making a decision to implement CEDS:

  • Voluntary:  Adoption and implementation of CEDS 2.0 is voluntary; there is no requirement for your SEA to implement the Common Education Data Standard.  There are good reasons to implement the standard, however, and some of those are described in the following sections.
  • Not a re-design:  The implementation of CEDS 2.0 does NOT require the complete re-design or re-development of your existing datasets or systems.  The implementation of CEDS 2.0 simply requires that the SEA “map” elements in its existing datasets and systems to the elements in CEDS 2.0.  The Data Alignment Tool that comes with CEDS 2.0 can be used to do that mapping; however, your agency may use whatever tools or other resources it has in order to complete that mapping.  After the mapping is done, your SEA can automate the extraction of the mapped elements and can store those extracted data in an “operational data store” (an ODS) [23]. Other sections of this document, intended for use by the data practitioners, describe one implementation strategy; there are many ways it can be done.
  • Not “no cost”:  Implementation of the Common Education Data Standard is NOT a “no-cost” project.  Your state education agency must commit resources to the work of implementing CEDS.  If your agency is to provide services for teaching and learning, it must have correct, complete, and current data relating to the educational areas in which you have set priorities.  The work to obtain and use such data in meaningful ways begins at the school, where data are collected, entered into local data systems, stored in datasets, and used for specific purposes.  The reliability and utility of those data are related directly the quality of the work done in collecting, entering, and storing those data.In addition, your SEA must work with your local districts to establish processes, procedures, and practices that reliably and accurately transport those data into the datasets defined by the common education data standard.  Collection and storage of data at the district and state levels must be standardized and automated to ensure that the quality and completeness of the data are not lost in the transport process.There is work that must be done and, of course, there are costs associated with that work; however, those costs are relatively small, most of the work is one-time start-up work, and the long-term benefits will be realized almost immediately. Other sections of this document contain descriptions of the work that must be done at the school, district, and state levels. 
  • Integrates with other standards:  CEDS 2.0 is a standard for identifying common data elements and relationships among those elements within the data that state education agencies, districts, and schools already collect or can collect as part of their efforts to serve teachers and learners.  CEDS does not impinge the work of other standards groups like the School Interoperability Framework Association (SIFA). The SIF standard is an “interoperability” standard that helps different software applications use the same data within relatively small environments – such as districts.  For example, SIF defines a format for a student’s name so that entry of the student’s name into one application (such as the student information system) triggers and electronic “event” that sends that name to other applications (such as the lunchroom management system and the library management system) within the school or district.CEDS does not provide that type of interoperability and CEDS implementation does not interfere with or change those interoperability functions in SIF or other interoperability protocols (such as those found in the Ed-Fi [24] data model).  Please see the bulleted item below, Creates Economies of Scale, for more about CEDS’ impact on the way applications can be built and integrated.
  • Base for research and collaboration:  If your SEA wants to provide services and resources to its districts, teachers, and learners, it must have data to determine need and to identify the resources to address those needs.  Your districts and schools, typically, do not have the local resources or access to large sets of longitudinal data that can help inform their teaching and learning strategies. Implementation of the Common Education Data Standard at your state education agency – along with the appropriate data collection strategies and practices – can provide the base for collaboration with districts within your state.  In addition, implementation of CEDS at the SEA level creates the foundation for SEA-to-SEA collaboration in meaningful research and collaborative action.  If each SEA has implemented CEDS so that each can create anonymized datasets in the same formats, collectively those SEAs will have created a foundation on which research can be done to inform the broader direction of education.In addition, the implementation of CEDS in each SEA creates the capacity to address the needs of students who move from one state to another – because the student’s data can be moved immediately in an electronic format that is readable, also immediately, in the receiving state.
  • Capacity for education transformation:  Implementation of CEDS creates a platform for development of learning applications and analytics that can change the business of teaching and learning in your state.  Much of the work that goes into building learning applications and analytics in today’s education world is done around acquiring and formatting the data needed in those applications.  That is a costly part of application development.If your SEA implements CEDS, the costs of that work can be reduced and the savings can be re-directed to more meaningful learning strategies, resources, and analytics because the data will already exist in reliable and usable formats.  Educational application developers and content providers can cut their costs by developing one and only one format (based on the Common Education Data Standard) for acquiring and importing your data – and those savings will be reflected in the reduced costs of implementing educational applications in your state and districts.
  • Creates economies of scale:  When a significant number of individual SEAs implement CEDS 2.0 (and beyond), those agencies will create a marketplace in which they (and you) have individual and collective power to affect and effect educational change.  Developers and content providers cannot ignore a marketplace in which your agency (and the agencies in other states) resources that are valuable to the future of learners – and that are, therefore, valuable to future development of educational applications and resources.  Your state education agency (and others like yours), in collaboration with districts and other stakeholders, can be empowered to guide the development of such resources.Because your SEA and your districts will know the data, you will be able to guide how those data are used in meaningful ways within applications that are developed in the marketplace.  Educators can have a more meaningful role in putting the applications, assessments, and analytics to work in personalizing the teaching and learning process.In addition, your agency and your districts will benefit from the cost savings that result from providing a reliable and stable source of data that cuts the cost of development [25].

Conclusion

Because the learners in your state must learn more than ever during their school careers, it is essential that they have opportunities to learn more effectively and efficiently.  That requires personalized learning opportunities for each learner.  Those opportunities cannot be made available to learners unless your state education agency and your districts have effective and efficient knowledge of each learner’s needs and of the resources that can address each of those needs.

Implementation of the Common Education Data Standard is the foundation for providing those opportunities – as well as exposing and recommending the resources needed to optimize those opportunities.  Those resources include informed teachers and other education leaders – as well as analytics and applications that bring all those resources together for the learner at the time each learning opportunity arises.

Without the Common Education Data Standard, your agency cannot provide those resources effectively or efficiently – and certainly not in an economically feasible way.  By implementing the Common Education Data Standard, your state education agency will create the capacity to change teaching and learning – immediately and universally.

Without the capacity for change, change cannot be created.  The Common Education Data Standard creates the capacity.

Gary West [26]

April 27, 2012

garywwest2@gmail.com

Permission is granted to share this document with anyone, in print or electronic format, as long as the content is not changed in any way.

Endnotes for Policy Makers

[1] Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO):  http://www.ccsso.org/

[2] As of this writing, 45 or more states and territories have adopted (http://www.corestandards.org/in-the-states) the Common Core State Standards (http://www.corestandards.org/).   Because a few states do not plan to adopt the specific Common Core State Standards, the general term “college- and career-ready standards” is being used to describe the broader set of academic standards that include the Common Core State Standards and the other state academic standards.  Generally, individual state academic standards are being aligned to the Common Core State Standards; thus, the “college- and career-ready standards” are comparable.  In order to link academic standards to assessments, performance, and effectiveness, each state will need a comprehensive data system that includes digital versions of those academic standards.  Implementation of the Common Education Data Standard will facilitate the needed integration of data and resources so that meaningful analyses of academic needs can be made.

[3] States have been applying for flexibility in implementation of the No Child Left Behind (http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/landing.jhtml) accountability requirements.  The main purpose of that flexibility is to allow states to develop and implement meaningful accountability systems.  Because Congress has not acted on re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA; http://www.ed.gov/esea), the states have developed a set of guiding principles for implementing new accountability systems.  The US Department of Education is in the process of reviewing and approving states’ applications for flexibility.  Most states’ accountability plans include measures of student performance and growth as well as measures of educator effectiveness.  Implementation of the Common Education Data Standard will support the appropriate measures of accountability.  The following resources relate to the principles and the flexibility plans: “Principles and Processes for State Leadership on Next-Generation Accountability Systems”:  http://www.ccsso.org/documents/Principles%20and%20Processes%20for%20State%20Leadership%20on%20Next%20Generation%20Acct%20Systems.pdf;  Education Counsel analysis of ESEA flexibility strategies: http://www.educationcounsel.com/files/ESEA_Flexibility_Package_Summary_Analysis-9-27-11.pdf

[4] During the No Child Left Behind years, focus was placed on “highly qualified” teachers (http://www2.ed.gov/programs/teacherqual/hqtplans/index.html).  The determination of “highly qualified” was based on teacher credentials and professional development participation.  In the last couple of years, the discussion has changed from “highly qualified” to “effective” teachers (http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/blueprint/publication_pg5.html) – changing the focus to teacher success as a function of student performance.  While there is little controversy around “effectiveness,” there is still concern around what the measures of effectiveness might be, the linking of student data to a specific teacher or group of teachers, and how to assess the effectiveness of teachers who work in non-tested content areas.  Implementation of the Common Education Data Standard will lay the foundation for collecting and using the appropriate data as definitions and measurement strategies are determined.

[5] State education agencies have indicated that they need their data systems to be comprehensive, complete, compatible, and comparable.  If your agency’s data systems are to be the foundation on which your agency switches from compliance monitoring to service provision, it must be able to inform teaching and learning, automate federal reporting, support your new accountability systems, serve parents and other local communities, and provide the foundation for research.  Implementation of the Common Education Data Standard in your state education agency creates the capacity to meet those needs.

[6] As part of becoming service agencies, state education agencies are interested in being able to provide and support high-quality learner options and opportunities outside the regular classroom settings.  K-12 learners are already taking advantage of online coursework, virtual classes, virtual schooling, home schooling, private schooling, and other options.  Implementation of the Common Education Data Standard by your state education agency and by the providers of other education options and opportunities will mean that a learner’s records, resources, and other relevant information can follow the student through the entire learning process.  Such capacity can refocus K-12 education from the current “schooling model” to a “learning model.”

[7] As new education issues emerge (and there seems to be no end to emerging issues in K-12 education), it is important that your state’s data systems evolve rapidly and systematically to accommodate those issues.  The Common Education Data Standard will continue to evolve as K-12 education evolves.  New elements, new relationships, new integrations, and new services, and new reporting are needed, the Common Education Data Standard provides the singularly important mechanism for dealing with those emerging issues.

[8] The term “learner” refers to all learners, including children and adults, students and educators, parents and communities, and others.  The Common Education Data Standard includes elements and records that enable the record keeping, resource integration, learning maps, and other resources that can be incorporated into personal and professional development as well as traditional student learning.

[9] Common Education Data Standard (CEDS): http://ceds.ed.gov/

[10] “Digital babble,” in this case, is used to describe the way educational applications and content exist in the K-12 education environment.  Each application has its own data structure and data values.  Integrating two or more education applications is not a trivial task because of the different structures and values.  In some cases, a “Rosetta stone” (like the School Interoperability Framework – SIF – is needed to translate between and among those applications; see more about SIF in Endnote 19, below).  In many cases, the cost of integrating your education applications is significantly higher because of the need to create such a Rosetta stone.  Implementation of the Common Education Data Standard will mean that your applications will have a common language through which they can communicate with each other.  In addition, that common language will facilitate collaborative and collective research by state education agencies that now find such research too expensive.   

[11] Common Core State Standards:  http://www.corestandards.org/. The Common Core State Standards and other college- and career-ready standards must become part of your state education agency’s datasets so that student performance can be linked to the standards and teachers can be exposed to each learner’s continuing academic needs.  The implementation of the Common Education Data Standard will ensure that all states use the same formats and values for the Common Core State Standards so that student records are transportable across state lines, as appropriate.

[12] USED Announcement:  http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-secretary-education-duncan-announces-winners-competition-improve-student-asse; Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC):  http://www.smarterbalanced.org/; Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC): http://www.parcconline.org/.  Although each assessment may have its own data structure and values, it will be essential that assessment information and results can be “translated” into the assessment formats built into the Common Education Data Standard so that student records can be updated and maintained, as well as linked to academic standards and learning resources.

[13] Model Core Teaching Standards (InTASC):  http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2011/InTASC_Model_Core_Teaching_Standards_2011.pdf.  As the Common Education Data Standard evolves to include the Model Core Teaching Standards, your implementation of CEDS will mean that you can link an individual teacher’s needs to the appropriate effective professional development – in much the same way that you want effective learning resources linked to academic standards to be exposed to your student learners.

[14] Education Leadership Policy Standards (ISLLC):  http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2008/Educational_Leadership_Policy_Standards_2008.pdf .  As leadership standards are incorporated into CEDS, your implementation of the Common Education Data Standard will provide the capacity to link leadership to effectiveness and performance based on those standards.

[15] Standards for Professional Learning:  http://www.learningforward.org/standards/index.cfm.  As professional learning standards for adult learners are viewed in much the same way as the college- and career-ready standards are viewed for student learners, the automation of the process for linking standards to resources will become critical.  Your implementation of the Common Education Data Standard will facilitate that integration and automation.

[16] National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):  http://nces.ed.gov/ 

[17] CEDS 2.0 Elements:  http://ceds.ed.gov/elements.aspx

[18] CEDS Stakeholder Group:  http://ceds.ed.gov/stakeHolderGroup.aspx

[19] School Interoperability Framework Association:  http://www.sifassociation.org/us/index.asp

[20] Postsecondary Electronics Standards Council:  http://www.pesc.org/

[21] State Higher Education Executive Officers:  http://www.sheeo.org/

[22] Data Quality Campaign:  http://www.dataqualitycampaign.org/   

[23] The implementation of the Common Education Data Standard may be completed in several different ways.  The real benefit of CEDS implementation can be fully realized when the implementation results in a physical set of data, stored on one of your agency’s servers, that contains record-level data for students, teachers, administrators, assessments, learning content resources, and much more.  That physical set of data is technically called an “operational data store” – or an ODS.  An ODS contains only the data, in records that contain specific data elements and that can be linked to other records in the ODS.  The ODS may be in XML format (a text-based format), in a relational database format (like SQL), or in some other format that is commonly agreed upon.  The Common Education Data Standard defines the elements to be included in the ODS.  In addition, CEDS defines the order in which those elements will appear in a student record, in a teacher record, in a class record, in a testing record, in a resource record, etc.  When the data are pulled from your existing datasets, converted to CEDS formats and values, and stored in your ODS, the result is that your ODS will look exactly like the ODS in your neighboring state.  From that common data structure, you and your neighbors will have built the capacity to use data in ways not possible now.  There is more discussion of the technical concepts in the section of this document written for your agency’s staff whose likely job will be to build the ODS.

[24] Ed-Fi:  http://www.ed-fi.org/

[25] Another section of this document will deal with the work and the costs associated with implementing the Common Core Data Standard.  In general, the costs of converting your existing statewide longitudinal data systems and your other data sets to the CEDS formats is prohibitive – and will “break” any existing applications that are using your existing datasets.  As a result, I am not recommending that you convert your existing datasets.  This document describes a process of extracting specific data elements from your existing datasets, converting those elements to the CEDS formats, and storing those data in a separate dataset (the ODS).  The cost of creating the application to do that work is small and reasonable – and will provide significant returns on that investment.  Cost savings in the implementation of newer applications and the reduction of costs in the development of those newer applications will be discussed in a later section of this document – written for the application development community.

[26] Gary West was high school math teacher for ten years, a federal projects coordinator for a small rural school district for nine years, a technology and data systems director for a moderately sized school district for more than nineteen years, the Chief Information Officer for the South Carolina Department of Education for more than three years, and the Strategic Initiatives Director for Information Systems and Research at the Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington DC for one year.  He has been emphasizing, since the beginning of time, the use of data to guide teaching and learning – not just the use of data to report what has already been taught and learned.