Democratize Data

Federal Policy
Democratize Data

This year, the Los Angeles Unified School District graduated at least 6,000 students whom the district, long before handing them diplomas, knew weren’t prepared for college or a career. The district cheered these students as successes, while at the same time admitting that they had barely passed their classes and lacked the skills and knowledge necessary for success outside the school doors.

Why was there no public outcry from the community, public officials, or taxpayers?

Because this information hadn’t been shared broadly or used to make sure every student stayed on track for success after high school.

Our education system is failing these and countless other students around the country by not providing their families with timely and complete information about student learning and school performance. Nationwide only about a third of American high school students graduate from high school prepared for college, yet nearly 90 percent of parents believe their children are on track to succeed in college. Our students, their families, and our country deserve better.

Using data to empower families to make informed decisions at every point in their child’s education journey must be a priority of the next administration. We can and must change how we use data to serve every child and family in this country and prepare them for success in school and in life.

Every state, as a result of significant federal and state investment, has the ability to provide richer information on student and school achievement than ever before. And yet, as of 2014, only 17 states reported that parents had access to any information about their students’ progress over time. So in many cases, the data exist, but the information is not being communicated to those in a position to help students—namely, teachers and parents. If doctors had valuable information that could improve the health and well-being of a child and withheld it, that would be grounds for medical malpractice.

First, federal policy should address this untapped potential by ensuring that individual students and families receive timely, useful, and complete information on individual students’ academic progress and achievement. Second, educators must be trained in data literacy—the ability to interpret and use data effectively and ethically and to communicate with parents about it. Finally, every family in every community should receive more complete information about how well their local schools are preparing their youth for success in life beyond high school.

Enabling Every Family to Access Their Own Child’s Data

Students benefit when they and their parents have a full picture of how well they are doing in school, presented in a timeframe that allows them to take action, make decisions, and partner with teachers, school leaders, and other providers in support of their success. Tools like dashboards and portals allow parents to securely access timely, useful, complete, and contextualized information on their own child’s academic progress and achievement all in one place. And while many districts offer data dashboards that give parents access to information on their child’s growth, performance in different subjects, and even tailored lesson recommendations and reports, leading states are beginning to develop data “backpacks” that also put parents in control of sharing their child’s education data.

Parents can use these secure, portable electronic data backpacks to share information with tutors, afterschool programs, or healthcare providers to better coordinate and customize services. They can also facilitate the transfer of student records, enabling rapid and appropriate academic placement in a new school. These tools not only provide data that support parents as informed advocates for their child, but they also increase understanding of how and why data are collected, shared, and protected because parents can review all data collected and stored in the backpack and help make decisions about access to their child’s information.

Every state, as a result of significant federal and state investment, has the ability to provide richer information on student and school achievement than ever before. And yet, as of 2014, only 17 states reported that parents had access to any information about their students’ progress over time.

Federal leadership can spur this innovation by providing grants for states and districts to develop and expand portals, dashboards, or data backpacks to allow families access to their children’s data in a secure and private manner. The funding could flow through ESSA, the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA), or the federal appropriations process. Focusing these grants on states and districts allows for customized approaches and innovation around the country to inform broader efforts.

In addition to accurate, timely, and useful information on individual students, families and communities need a richer picture of how well their local schools are preparing youth for success in life beyond high school. A recent survey of parents across the country found that the criterion parents found most valuable about a school was information on how well the school prepares students for the future. In addition, 95 percent of parents who didn’t have information on how their schools’ graduates performed in postsecondary schooling and careers wish they did.106 Information on the real-world outcomes of students from their local schools helps parents contextualize their child’s progress and performance.

To give families a more complete picture of their schools, the next administration must build on new public reporting provisions in ESSA and create additional incentives and opportunities within the law to encourage states to report additional postsecondary indicators. The next president should work with Congress to strengthen the law to require states and districts to include aggregated postsecondary enrollment, remediation, and completion information for all students in school report cards, and should encourage states to also include employment and wage information for those going directly into the workforce or military.

Building Educators’ Capacity to Use Data Effectively

Parents are not the only education stakeholders who need to access and understand data. A critical component of empowering families with the ability to access and share their own child’s data is ensuring that their education partners (school leaders, teachers, and specialists) understand how to use data to communicate with parents about their child’s progress and to improve and tailor instruction. This training is sorely lacking today, so the next administration must take steps to ensure that all educators are data literate.

A recent survey of parents across the country found that the criterion parents found most valuable about a school was information on how well the school prepares students for
the future.

By embedding requirements for data literacy training and skills in the Higher Education Act’s (HEA’s) educator preparation, induction, and selection provisions, the next administration can help ensure all new teachers are taught how to use data well. In addition, the next administration should update HEA Title II’s definition of “Teaching Skills” to include a direct reference to using data to support instruction and decision-making, while also safeguarding student privacy and confidentiality.

These are obviously not the only policy actions needed to ensure that student data is high quality and well used. But both are key steps to help parents and educators understand the power and potential of high-quality data and effective decision-making based on it.

 

This is an excerpt from 16 for 2016: 16 Education Policy Ideas for the Next President, published by Bellwether Education Partners. Find the full publication here


Also published on Medium.

President and CEO
Aimee Rogstad Guidera is the President and CEO of the Data Quality Campaign (DQC). Aimee believes that data has the power to transform education to ensure every child in this country is prepared for success in college and careers.