Education's Data Management Initiative:

Significant Progress Made, but Better Planning Needed to Accomplish Project Goals

GAO-06-6: Published: Oct 28, 2005. Publicly Released: Oct 28, 2005.

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As a condition of receiving federal funding for elementary and secondary education programs, states each year provide vast amounts of data to Education. While the need for information that informs evaluation is important (particularly with the No Child Left Behind Act), Education's data gathering has heretofore presented some problems. It has been burdensome to states because there are multiple and redundant requests administered by a number of offices. In addition, the resulting data supplied by states has not been accurate, timely, or conducive to assessing program performance. To improve the information by which it evaluates such programs and also to ease states' reporting burden, Education in 2002 initiated an ambitious, multiyear plan to consolidate elementary and secondary data collections into a single, department-wide system focused on performance. Given its importance, we prepared a study, under the authority of the Comptroller General, to provide Congress with information on its progress.

Through its Performance-Based Data Management Initiative (PBDMI), Education has consolidated and defined much of the data it anticipates collecting under a unified system. Education reports that many data definitions have been agreed-to and data redundancies eliminated. PBDMI officials also said that to date, however, it has not been able to resolve all remaining differences among the program offices that manage many of the different data collections. PBDMI officials have conducted extensive outreach to the states to advance the initiative. The outreach to states involved regional conferences, two rounds of site visits, and according to officials, $100,000 in grants to most states to help offset their costs. State data providers responding to our survey expressed general satisfaction with the department's outreach, but some were not optimistic that the initiative would ease their reporting burden or enhance their own analytic capacity. The states were not able to produce enough data during test submissions in 2003 and 2004 to enable data quality verification or phasing out the department's multiple data collections. With regard to the lack of sufficient data from many states, Education officials said some lack the technical capacity needed to produce new performance data requirements. State data providers reported having competing demands for their time and resources, given other federal initiatives. Education officials have decided to proceed with the undertaking and have developed a draft interim strategy for moving forward. But they currently have no formal plan for how they would overcome obstacles such as the lack of state data and other technical and training delays to the initiative.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To address the issues identified with regard to planning, decision-making, and improving data quality, the Secretary of Education should develop a strategy to help states improve their ability to provide quality data given the challenges that many states face in providing data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Education mandated states to electronically submit data via its Education Data Exchange Network (EDEN) in Fiscal Year 2008. To facilitate this collection, Education provided grants totaling $160,000 beginning in FY 2008 to states to improve hardware and systems and/or to address data governance and quality. According to officials, all states now submit data through EDEN.

    Recommendation: To address the issues identified with regard to planning, decision-making, and improving data quality, the Secretary of Education should develop a clear process for reconciling differences between the program offices and the PBDMI oversight office to ensure that decisions critical to the success of PBDMI are made.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ED developed a process to reconcile differences between the program offices and the PBDMI oversight office. In July 2010, Education reported that its Data Governance Committee now reconciles differences for similar data elements collected in different ways by the various program offices. Differences that cannot be settled through this venue are sent to the Assistant Secretary for Policy for final resolution. The Department also relies on a state-based data strategy group, which has been tasked with identifying those few remaining areas in dispute or data that are not longer needed.

    Recommendation: To address the issues identified with regard to planning, decision-making, and improving data quality, the Secretary of Education should develop a clear plan for completing final aspects of PBDMI, including specific time frames and indicators of progress toward the initiative's goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Education agreed with this recommendation and took several steps to address it. The agency established an on-line survey tool as well as analysis and reporting tools (EDFacts) on ednet in the spring of 2006. Since that time, EDFacts reports were provided to the states. Education also published a new regulation for the mandatory collection of EDEN 2006-2007 data in the Federal Register on April 27, 2006. Finally, Education officials reported that the last component of its data system, now referred to as the Education Data Exchange Network or EDEN, was fully implemented in the Fall of 2008. EDEN is comprised of three subsystems through states and other entities are required to submit data elements related to elementary and secondary education to Education.

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