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About the Handbooks | History of the Handbooks | About the Data Elements

About the Data Elements

Online Data Element Database Hierarchy
Online Data Element Database Hierarchy Example

Data Elements

The data elements included in the handbook can be used in a variety of ways. A teacher, school administrator, or local/state education agency may use the data elements in the handbooks to design an education management information system. The selection of data elements to be collected is the responsibility of the school, local administrative unit, or state education agency that directs the development and maintenance of education records. The data elements and definitions could also be used by a researcher in several ways. They could be used to design a data collection survey to collect information on various aspects of education agencies. The data elements and definitions could be incorporated into the survey instructions to ensure that comparable data are collected.

A Data Element is the name of a unit of data that can be defined and measured. Each data element has been assigned a unique "data element number" consisting of four digits only. The numbers do not carry any additional meaning. The data elements have been assigned these numbers for identification purposes.

Within the handbooks, the data elements are assembled based on a hierarchical grouping schematic. At the most general level, data elements are grouped in terms of their respective Domain. Domain is a term used to indicate the handbook source from which the data element originated, such as the Student Handbook, Staff Handbook, School Handbook, and so forth.

Each domain is further divided into Sections. A section is very much like a chapter of a book, in that sections divide or separate related information-or in this case, data elements. Examples of sections include Personal Information, Institution Identification, and Program.

Within each section, data elements are further classified into a single Category. The category provides a more refined assemblage of the data elements based on the unique information to which the data elements pertain within a given section. Examples of categories include Activity Information, Honors Information, and Post-School Education/Training.

Options give recommended alternatives or responses for a data element. Options are listed in either alphabetical order or a logical sequence, and have assigned code numbers. For example, "Female" and "Male" are options under the data element "Sex".

The options presented are generally illustrative, not mandatory. In some cases, a subset of options might be sufficient when designing a data system or data collection instrument. For some data elements, comprehensive lists of options would have been useful, but extensive lists could not be created. In these cases, examples of options are listed but comprehensive lists are not included. For some other data elements, options lists were created to meet a perceived need, even though an exhaustive list was not possible. For some data elements, free-form (open-ended) options are the appropriate responses. In these cases, no pre-conceived options are presented. For other data elements, more extensive lists of options might be needed and obtained from other sources; often, in such cases, these sources are accessible in the form of a link/referral to the relevant handbook appendix.

Entities are persons, places, events, objects, or concepts about which data can be collected. For example, the data element "Last/Surname" could be collected to describe a student's emergency contact, a teacher, or a health care provider, thus putting the data element into a context. A listing of entities and their definitions is included with the handbooks.

Because data elements are reusable generic things that are associated with an entity, the term Instance is used to constitute a use of a data element within a particular context. For example, "Last/Surname" is an element that when paired with the entity "Student" constitutes a use of the "Last/Surname" element. Option sets are also associated with this pair when appropriate.

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