Information is Power

Information is Power

Sixty percent of public schools parents say they have enough information about the schools in their community to make an informed choice for their children. That’s according to the latest edition of the PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.

While that’s a great start and reflective of the important strides states have made recently to improve the public reporting of education data so it is focused on meeting the information needs of their citizens, the poll points to other areas of improvement.

The past decade of building data infrastructure, and more recently building cultures of data use, has provided invaluable information that has improved the lives of thousands of American children—yet much of that change is invisible to many parents and taxpayers.

Schools, districts and states are regularly using data to measure student progress, close achievement gaps between groups of students, identify when students are off track and get them back on the path to graduation and to personalize learning to meet the needs of individual students.  But more has to be done to ensure that everyone with a stake in education, especially families and educators, have timely access to information in a useful format.

And we have to use that information in the right context. In the PDK/Gallup Poll, 67 percent of public school parents and 64 percent of the public overall say they believe there’s too much emphasis on standardized testing in their communities.

This is not because the public is against testing—in fact, 67 percent of those surveyed in a recent Education Next poll said they favor continuing annual statewide testing, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act—it’s because they understand, as do we, that testing is just one (important) piece of the data puzzle. Data also include attendance, coursetaking patterns, graduation rates and other important measures. That data, when combined with observations, pedagogy and the professional judgment of educators, becomes useful information  The PDK/Gallup Poll shows the public agrees. Examples of student work, written observations by the teacher and grades awarded by the teacher are among those approaches the public believes provide the most accurate picture of a student’s academic progress.

As our CEO Aimee Rogstad Guidera put it: “…the major backlash against student testing is because teachers and families are getting little value out of it. If a test is to be worthwhile, it needs to be producing information that’s useful in classrooms and at kitchen tables.”

Our most recent Data for Action survey points to clues why. Parents in just 17 states have access to data that follow their children’s progress over time. And while more than 40 states now provide high school feedback reports and other reports that demonstrate how students do once they go to college, the information is not always easy to find, or in the right context to help parents and the public answer key questions they have about how students in their communities are faring and how to pick the school that best meets the needs of their children. As we look at the information from the various polls, it’s clear we need to ask more questions, especially of those closest to children, about how we meet their information needs.

Let’s let this year’s poll results be a clarion call to us all to redouble our efforts and ensure every parent and teacher have timely access to the high-quality data they need to help students achieve. Our students can’t afford to wait.



Photo: PDK Poll 2015