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Why We Need Education Data

March 16, 2015

Step into a new car today, and you‘ll find features that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Sensors alert you if the tire pressure is low. A rear-facing camera sounds an alarm if you get too close to another parked car. And navigation systems keep you from getting lost. These features not only keep us safe, they provide information to make smarter decisions.

The same goes for education. As a country, we’re getting better about installing early warning systems that tell us when students—and schools—are off track and what supports might help them improve.

Just a decade ago, states took different approaches to calculating graduation rates. No one could tell if the data were accurate, and comparisons between states were impossible.  Today, all states use a consistent method to calculate high school graduation rates. And thanks to a focus on keeping more students in school, graduation rates are higher than they have ever been.

Improved graduation rates are worth celebrating. But a new report from the Schott Foundation for Education demonstrates that the data we collect do not give us the full picture. Black Lives Matter found that the graduation rate for African American males is 59 percent (compared to 80 percent for white males)—and the gap appears to be growing. Thanks to a focus on keeping more students in school, graduation rates are higher than they have ever been.

The report details similar gaps in reading and math proficiency, enrollment in AP courses, and how students are disciplined. For more on the report and a profile of a school network working to address the needs of young men of color, read this Black Enterprise article.

All students should have access to great teaching, effective mentoring and advising, and high expectations. The conversation about how to get there must start with accurate information. Yet some argue that we should scale back efforts to collect annual data about the performance of students and schools.

At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we believe that better education data at all levels can shine a spotlight on inequality and improve decision-making. We’re not the only ones. More than 20 civil rights and equity organizations signed a statement urging Congress to require states to expand data collection and reporting—and to break out the data by gender as well as ethnicity.

If the check engine light in your car goes on, you don’t ignore it. That’s why you have it. If we truly want to help every child succeed, we need to know when and why some of our students are getting left behind. Annual, comprehensive education data gives us the information to address disparities and help ensure that all students have access to a quality education.

More Content: Black Lives Matter Video

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