Common Data Project

Improving the Quality and Comparability of State Education Data in New England

About the Project

Beginning in 2009, the five state education agencies participating in the New England Secondary School Consortium (NESSC) — Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont — have been collecting, calculating and reporting high school graduation rates, high school dropout rates, and postsecondary enrollment, persistence and completion rates using a common set of procedures and methodologies developed by a regional team of data specialists from each of the five state agencies.

While education agencies throughout the country have made significant investments in their individual state data systems, the New England Secondary School Consortium’s Common Data Project may be the first initiative of its kind to bring together several states in a collaborative, multiyear effort to improve the accuracy, reliability and comparability of public-education data across state lines. As more school-improvement initiatives and programs use state-collected data on public schools to determine priorities and measure progress, data quality has become an increasingly higher priority for educators, policy makers and philanthropic foundations.

Through the Common Data Project, the five participating agencies of education develop standardized procedures intended to eliminate unwanted variance that may result from divergent system designs, differing interpretations of agreed-upon rules, or computational errors. Recognizing the critical importance of accurate, high-quality data when it comes to making informed decisions about improving public schools, project leaders also created a series of quality-control mechanisms that further improve the reliability and comparability of state-reported data.

How the Project Works

  1. Data coordinators and specialists from the participating SEAs, along with representatives from higher education and other data experts, meet several times throughout the year to discuss best practices, refine agreements, and coordinate the collection and reporting of state education data. Each participating SEA shares and discusses its data practices with other SEAs, and several refinements of in-state data procedures have resulted from lessons learned from other states.
  2. All five states use common metrics, procedures, and rules when compiling, calculating, and reporting data. A full description of these procedures can be found in the Common Data Project 2013–2014 Procedural Guidebook. The goal is continual improvement of data reliability and comparability across the region.
  3. The common procedures and rules are published under a Creative Commons license, which allows for the free use of all content, and other SEAs and educational organizations are encouraged to use and adapt our work.
  4. Each year, the NESSC produces a comprehensive regional data report (see below). The NESSC, and its participating SEAs and partners, use these annual reports to evaluate the impact of state policies and initiatives designed to improve secondary schools and student performance.
  5. The NESSC publishes the metrics and reports on its website, making the data available to educators, policy makers, and the general public.
  6. All the data procedures and metrics developed through the Common Data Project comply with all state and federal rules, regulations, and guidance related to data quality and reporting.
  7. The common-data reporting is used to track statewide and regional improvements in school and student-subgroup performance within and across states. The comparable data set — in place since the baseline year of 2009 — facilitates more reliable cross-state comparisons.
  8. A comprehensive "college-readiness index" that takes into account statewide academic, socioeconomic and behavioral data is under development. The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine have been collaborating on the development of the index.

Project Innovations

  1. Common metrics: The Common Data Project has produced a set of formulas that are used to calculate secondary graduation rates, secondary dropout rates, and postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and completion rates.
  2. Common rules: All five SEAs follow the same "business rules" and procedures when collecting, calculating and reporting common data to improve consistency, comparability and quality.
  3. Common definitions: Each variable in the regional data set is determined using consistently applied definitions. For example, all five SEAs follow the same definitions for economically disadvantaged students, English-language learners, students with disabilities and other student subgroups.
  4. Common reporting windows: All five SEAs follow common data-collection and data-reporting timelines. Since most large-scale databases are continually updated, common reporting windows improve the consistency and comparability of multistate data sets.
  5. Common quality-control procedures: The Common Data Project uses both internal (state-by-state controls) and external (third-party coordination and auditing) as part of its quality-control framework. The redundant, multistage protocol is designed to improve data quality throughout the collection, calculation and reporting cycle.

Annual Data Reports

The two Common Data Project annual reports below summarize the first and second year of reporting on the four statewide performance indicators developed and adopted by the NESSC. The data was collected by the five participating SEAs and the reports were prepared by Dr. J.P. Beaudoin of the RIA Group.

  1. 2014 Annual Report: School Year 2012–2013
  2. 2013 Annual Report: School Year 2011–2012