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The Future of NCES’s Longitudinal Student Surveys: Balancing Bold Vision and Realism

Abstract

"The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) longitudinal student surveys have historically been extremely useful for describing and understanding educational processes and outcomes. However, as now implemented, their utility is limited in a number of ways. They cannot be used to monitor trends at short time intervals, they do not allow for flexible changes to survey content, they cannot generally be used to make inferences about policy effects, they are not especially useful for making international comparisons, and they are of limited value to local stakeholders. In this article, I argue NCES should consider doing to its longitudinal student surveys what the Census Bureau did to the census long form and what National Opinion Research Center (NORC) has long done with the General Social Survey: Move to annual rotating panels, and allow outside investigators to field (and fund) supplemental topical modules. NCES should also continue to work with the research community to explore new survey content areas and modes of observation; move to state representative samples; improve the quality of the spatial measures of both school catchment areas and students' residential neighborhoods; and pursue large-scale record linkage to various administrative data. These measures would vastly expand the utility of these already valuable data resources."

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