More than 15 years ago, Pennsylvania students taking state tests didn't even have to put their names on them.
Now the state is in the midst of developing a sophisticated data system that will track students from preschool to elementary and secondary education to postsecondary education to the work force.
The U.S. Department of Education announced Friday it will contribute $14.3 million to help pay for the design and implementation in Pennsylvania of a statewide longitudinal data system. Pennsylvania is among 20 states sharing $250 million in economic stimulus money for statewide longitudinal data systems.
All states developing the systems still will have to comply with federal privacy laws as well as any applicable privacy laws within their own states.
"We are thrilled that we are building a data system that connects both early childhood and higher education to our K-12 system," said Thomas Gluck, acting state education secretary.
"The data will allow us to see if our strategies are working and what are the best instructional practices that lead to student achievement."
Pennsylvania has been working for the past four years on developing the data system, known as the Pennsylvania Information Management System, or PIMS.
The state's application for the federal grant said the money will help to connect to work force and adult basic literacy education data; expand the postsecondary database; expand existing student and teacher data; and link kindergarten assessment results and demographic data.
It also will help to link the federal Head Start data into an early learning network; implement eTranscripts and electronic student record exchange; conduct feasibility studies; and improve access to and use of data.
"I'm a huge believer in the power of data," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a telephone news conference.
"Data gives us a road map. It tells us where we are, where we need to go and who's at risk," he said.
"Tracking student progress from birth through college helps teachers in the classroom, helps principals manage and improve their schools, and helps parents better understand the unique educational needs of their child," Mr. Duncan stated in a news release.
Education writer Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955.