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 U.S. Department of Education: Promoting Educational Excellence for all Americans - Link to ED.gov Home Page

Data Quality and Timeliness | PAR Data Quality

Complete, accurate, and reliable data are essential for effective decisionmaking.  State and local educational agencies have historically provided education performance data that do not meet our information quality standards.  Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, the accuracy of state and local education performance data has become even more crucial.  Funding decisions are made and management actions are taken on the basis of this performance information.  Reliable information is a prerequisite for effective management and essential for implementing the requirements of laws and governmentwide standards for dissemination of information.

Ensuring that data are high quality is not solely the responsibility of our grantees that report data to us.  The Department is responsible for accurate definitions of requested data, efficient systems to gather it, and technical assistance to data providers.  The Department itself also develops and uses data.  One of the most visible areas in which this occurs is the annual budget development process.  The central focus of our budget process is to align goals, objectives, performance measures, and program funding levels to develop a performance budget.  One of the five governmentwide elements of the President’s Management Agenda is the integration of budget and performance, which focuses on making budget decisions based on results.

The Department, facing the opportunities provided by both the No Child Left Behind Act and the integrated performance-based budget process, recognizes that we need to improve the accuracy, reliability, and completeness of our data.

Although immediate connections between specific grantee performance and funding levels are sometimes challenging to make, the Department is building systems to yield reliable performance data to inform budget and policy decisions.  These systems will enhance our budget process and increase the accuracy and reliability of the information we receive from state and local educational agencies.

Chief among these efforts is the Education Data Exchange Network (EDEN), the Department’s centralized K-12 data management repository.  Other data quality improvement efforts include those supported by the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools.

In addition to these efforts, the Department is also working with states to address systemic issues in improving the reliability and accuracy of states’ data.  During Title I compensatory education state monitoring visits, for example, Department staff collect evidence on whether a state has established clear criteria and quality control mechanisms for collecting data from schools and school districts that are used for accountability purposes.

The Department has recently initiated a contract task order to develop data quality guidelines for states and school districts that will provide guidance and suggestions for improving states’ internal quality control systems to reduce errors and increase reliability, as well as to improve data quality monitoring procedures.  The Department will disseminate this guide to states along with training material to accompany the guide.

The performance data in this Performance and Accountability Report, the best data we have, are only as accurate as what is reported to us by our grantees.  Our evolving management controls are not yet able to fully describe the accuracy of these data.  However, the Department has had a consistent focus on improving the quality of the data we use to administer our programs and to develop policy.  Each year the data we report are more accurate and more reliable than those of prior years.

Major hurdles must be overcome before the states and the Department have the data systems that will yield timely, reliable, accurate, high-quality data.  Among them are improving the timeliness and accuracy of performance information; building and maintaining the technical infrastructure of hardware, software, and networks; and securing the services of staff who are able to work with these systems.  We are no longer working to build a single data system; our goal is an integrated system of systems. We welcome this challenge.