Alabama has filed an application for federal grant money from the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) to establish a statewide longitudinal data system (SLDS), but won’t learn the results of their application until some time in September.
Assistant State Superintendent Dr. Melinda Maddox confirmed a grant application was submitted, and the Alabama State Department of Education will serve as the fiscal agent for the grant.
The USDOE is expected to release information related to the grant applications sometime this week, according to Nancy Sharkey of the National Center for Education Statistics.
The State Board of Education (SBOE) first heard a presentation at their January work session from representatives of the Alabama Workforce Council (AWC) about establishing the database and the possibility the ALSDE would be asked to serve as fiscal agent.
The AWC was created in 2014 by the Alabama legislature. Their purpose, according to the executive order, is “to promote collaboration across prekindergarten-12, two-year college, four-year universities, and business and industry”.
The AWC met multiple times during 2014 and presented their recommendations to the Governor in early February.
Establishing a statewide longitudinal data system, also known as the P-20W data system or database, was the AWC’s number one recommendation.
P-20W refers to the continuum of education beginning with pre-kindergarten through high school and college and then on into the workforce.
While Alabama is one of only three states without a state data repository, only 19 states have established full linkage of P-20W systems, according to the Data Quality Campaign, a national nonprofit working “to empower educators, parents, and policymakers with quality information to make decisions that ensure students achieve their best”.
According to Bentley’s order, the database is “a program to collect and match personally identifiable records of Alabama students from early learning through postsecondary and into employment” which has many purposes, including “ensuring that all Alabama students graduate from high school being college and career ready, improving decision-making on educational programs, making decisions based upon validated and objective measures of student outcomes, and permitting qualified researchers to collaboratively evaluate the success of state programs”.
The executive order states as additional reasons and benefits, that the database will:
- enable students and parents to make better decisions to ensure student success;
- help teachers and education leaders to identify best practices, scale them within schools, and allocate resources toward such programs;
- allow transparency of the use of tax dollars for taxpayers; assist industry to better understand the development of skilled talent;
- enable business and philanthropy leaders to target their resources towards programs with proven outcomes;
- and help state policymakers to allocate state resources to effective programs
During the January work session, Martha Miller, an attorney with Balch & Bingham who led the presentation, stated that establishing a P-20W linked data system was essential to understanding the effectiveness of various education and training programs and their outcomes.
Miller emphasized that establishing the database does not increase the amount or type of data collected by the SBOE at the state level, it only better links the data that already exists.
The estimated initial cost of setting up the P-20W database was expected to be around $3 million. AWC representatives told the SBOE they were considering seeking federal SLDS grant money if it became available, but at the time it was not yet available.
The latest round of SLDS grant funding was announced on March 12. The application deadline was June 10.
Federal guidelines state that grants are expected to total $27 million, with the average grant award expected to range from $1 million to $7 million.
During the current round of funding, the USDOE required grantees to focus on data use in one or two priority areas, as opposed to prior rounds where the focus was on data linkage and infrastructure. Guidelines were clear that funds offered during this grant cycle would not be available for maintenance of databases.
At the January work session, members of the SBOE expressed concern about which agency might be responsible for funding the maintenance of the database once the grant money was exhausted. Miller reassured them that it would be a state-funded endeavor, and the ALSDE would not be expected to fund maintenance of the database.
What About Data Privacy and Security?
Maximizing the protection of student data is paramount, according to Miller, and she delineated the various protections to ensure student and parent privacy. The image below was taken from the January presentation.
The executive order delineates the commitment to maintain data privacy and lists who can have access to what kind of data (Section 5c).
Regarding personally identifiable information, the order states:
Direct access to personally identifying information in the Alabama P-20W Longitudinal Data System is restricted to staff and authorized representatives of the Office. Information that has not been de-identified may not be reported or disclosed in any form by the Office. Information is not considered de-identified if an individual is reasonably identifiable based on the size or uniqueness of the population under consideration.
Data governance policies will be developed by the Chief Privacy Officer with the approval of the advisory board and will be published online.
What Data Will Be Included?
According to Bentley’s order, the following data will be included in the database:
- Data relating to student performance, including assessments; course-taking and completion; grade-point average; remediation; retention; degree, diploma or credential
attainment; enrollment; and demographic data;
- Workforce data, including employment status, wage information, field of employment, employer information, and geographic location of employment; and
- Other student and workforce data deemed necessary by the Advisory Board to achieve the state’s educational goals.
The following state agencies are listed as contributing data to the database:
- the Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs;
- the Alabama State Department of Education;
- the Alabama Community College System;
- the State of Alabama’s four-year public and independent colleges and universities;
- the Alabama Commission on Higher Education;
- the Alabama Department of Labor;
- the State Department of Veteran Affairs;
- the Alabama Industrial Development and Training Institute;
- the Federal Employment Data Exchange System; and
- the Regional Workforce Development Councils of Alabama.
Who Will Govern the Data’s Collection and Use?
The order authorizes the creation of the Alabama Office of Workforce and Education Statistics, to be housed under the Department of Labor and headed by a Chief Policy Officer appointed by the Governor.
An advisory board, which will meet semi-annually, was established and will consist of the following representatives:
- the Commissioner of Labor, who shall serve as the Co-chair of the Advisory Board;
- the Secretary of Information Technology, who shall serve as the Co-chair of the Advisory Board;
- the Governor’s Education Policy Advisor;
- the Chair of the Senate Education Budget Committee;
- the Chair of the House of Representatives Education Budget Committee;
- a representative of the State Board of Education, who shall be appointed by the Governor to serve no more than two consecutive three-year terms;
- the State Superintendent of Education, or his or her designee;
- a representative of the Alabama Community College System Board of Trustees, who shall be appointed by the Governor to serve no more than two consecutive three-year terms;
- the Chancellor of the Alabama Community College System, or his or her designee;
- the President of the Alabama Council of College and University Faculty Presidents, or his or her designee);
- the President of the Alabama Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, or his or her designee;
- the Chairperson of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, or his or her designee;
- the Commissioner of Children’s Affairs, or his or her designee;
- the Secretary of Commerce, or his or her designee;
- the State Service Commissioner of the State Department of Veteran Affairs, or his or her designee;
- one information technology expert representing private industry with expertise in large data systems and data security, who shall be appointed by the Governor to serve no more
than two consecutive three-year terms;
- one representative of local superintendents in the State of Alabama, who shall be appointed by the Governor to serve no more than two consecutive three-year terms; and
- one representative of the public, who shall be appointed by the Governor to serve no more than one three-year term.
The advisory board’s duties are fully listed in the order and include approving governance policies and developing a research agenda.
There are really two issues being addressed here, neither of which have received much coverage.
First is the creation of the P-20W database and second is Governor Bentley’s decision to seek federal grant money to do so.
The Governor’s executive order made it clear that the P-20W database will be created, but what we’re waiting on now is whether federal funds will be used to create the database.
And while we’re waiting, you might want to review the helpful video below from the Data Quality Campaign, while remembering that no “list” of which student data will be put into the database has been made available.
Stay tuned. This story will be updated as information becomes available.