Study Examines State Education Databases as Decision-Making Tools

February 18, 2005
Austin, Texas

Laura Shankland
Communications Associate
Phone: 512-391-6556

Nearly all states face challenging education finance and resource issues that hinge on how to best invest resources to boost student achievement. For that reason, policy researchers at the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) investigated how policymakers in four states can make use of existing data on resources and student performance.

The study, Investigation of Education Databases in Four States to Support Policy Research on Resource Allocation, examined databases in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Texas.

Lotte Smith-Hansen, a program specialist at SEDL and one of the authors of the report, says, “The study determined which policy questions can and cannot be answered with the data available in each of the four states. For example, some policymakers in our region want to know, ‘Does smaller class size really boost achievement?’ Or ‘Do teachers with master’s degrees and more experience really get better results?’ These questions can only be answered with the right data. We discuss the kinds of data needed to answer these questions and whether states already collect these data in their education databases.”

SEDL’s researchers found that state education databases are an important but underutilized tool for making evidence-based decisions. They note a number of ways the existing data can be used by policymakers, including the following:

  • Individual staff salary data can be linked with staff characteristics such as years of experience, highest degree, and certification information for more comprehensive analysis of staff compensation.
  • Student achievement scores can be linked to fiscal and/or staff resources at the school and district levels in all four study states.
  • Data on student, school, and district characteristics are available and are critical in understanding the complexity of the relationship between resources and achievement.

The authors also make suggestions as to how policymakers, state data managers, practitioners, and researchers can expand the use of education data. For example, Smith-Hansen says that because No Child Left Behind has made teacher quality a priority, states should make sure the data collected regarding teacher qualifications align with federal requirements. “A teacher’s subject area competence—an important NCLB priority—is hard to determine in all of the four states,” she says. “Data on in-field certification, degree major, and teacher test scores by subject area are not consistently available in the four states.”

The full report may be found online at The four chapters include information from all four states, giving the reader a regional perspective. Detailed reference material by state can be found in the appendices.

About SEDL

The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) is a nonprofit corporation based in Austin, Texas. SEDL is dedicated to solving significant education problems and improving teaching and learning through research, research-based resources, and professional development. For more information about SEDL, visit