From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of August 17

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of August 17

As we all try to understand our rapidly evolving education environment during the COVID-19 crisis and the uncertainty that surrounds it, the Data Quality Campaign is working to elevate what’s happening – whether it’s concrete examples of what’s working in states and districts, ideas and proposals from the field, or things our organization and others are exploring. To accomplish this, we’re bringing you our thoughts on the most salient conversations happening in the last week on navigating education during the pandemic and future recovery efforts.

We’re writing this column together to combine our perspectives: Jenn brings years of experience in the classroom and in education leadership at the district and federal levels, while Paige’s expertise comes from more than a decade working on state and federal education data policy and issues. Check back weekly for our roundup of noteworthy thinking on education data and policy.

Last week, officials in Arkansas, New Hampshire, and New Mexico announced that they plan to administer statewide assessments in the 2020-2021 school year. In all three states, officials described the value of having assessment data to understand the impact of COVID-19 and support instruction:

  • Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson: “As governor and someone interested in the education of this state, the testing is very, very important… And you say, ‘Well, they might not do well because you were out last year, and we’ve got a blended environment this year.’ The answer is, we need to know the consequence of COVID-19 on our educational system and the progress that students are making. To me, it’s an important measuring stick.”
  • New Hampshire Administrator for Academics and Assessment Melissa White: “These types of assessments help us look at the system level and see things from that larger level… They help us to guide resources and allow us to address whatever inequities we may find, particularly for vulnerable or high-needs groups.”
  • New Mexico Deputy Secretary of Teaching, Learning and Assessment Gwen Perea Warniment: “We know that there will be an impact in terms of education… in terms of the assessment data, it will be interesting to see.”

State decisionmakers should be encouraged by the leadership displayed in Arkansas, New Hampshire and New Mexico as they recognize the importance of 2021 assessments. Without statewide summative assessments, state leaders will be in the dark about student performance and academic progress. Refusing to administer assessments next year will mean that state leaders lack information on student academic growth, and parents and communities won’t have access to updated information through report cards and other public reports. Without this data, leaders won’t be able to make the best decisions for students as they work toward recovery.

NWEA released resources and recommendations for assessing students this fall, based on information following their administration of 400,000 remote tests this spring. In their recommendations, NWEA notes that, “a successful remote assessment program gives careful consideration to which students will be assessed, and how the data will be used,” and the organization recommends caution when using data from remote assessments for high-stakes decisions. It’s important that states and districts not only look for best practices for how to administer tests remotely, but that they also communicate that information to parents and communities. Being clear about how tests are being administered, how data from those assessments is being used, and how that data is being safeguarded is crucial.

More data for recovery. Results for America (RFA) release its latest report, 2020 Invest in What Works State Standard of Excellence, which features examples of data-driven and evidence-based practices, policies, programs, and systems from 35 states. The report highlights how states have turned to data during this pandemic, and RFA highlights examples of innovative, data-driven COVID-19 responses, including:

  • Colorado’s COVID-19 dashboard features extensive data on hospitals, outbreaks, surveillance efforts, and the incidence and epidemic curve; Minnesota’s COVID Response Capacity Tracker monitors hospital surge capacity, child care capacity, and COVID-19 response funding in addition to economic and food security metrics, critical care supplies, dial back indicators, and demographic details.
  • Minnesota’s race/ethnicity data dashboard publishes demographic COVID-19 data by age, gender, and race/ethnicity; this approach was mirrored in 45 other states that also released demographic data about COVID-19 cases.
  • Connecticut’s statewide data infrastructure helped the state leverage existing data-sharing agreements to match student and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) data, enabling students to directly receive SNAP Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) food benefits with no application necessary.

State leaders can and must use all data available to them to make decisions during this uncertain time. Using evidence from their own state and best practices from other states will allow leaders to make the best decisions for all students.

Providing out-of-school support to students. In Cleveland, where schools will be holding online-only classes this fall, organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and YMCA are opening their doors to create learning centers for students. In this environment, students will be able to eat lunch and use Wi-Fi while maintaining social distance. Out-of-school-time (OST) partners have always provided essential services to students. And as our nation struggles with a major divide in which students have access to high-speed internet and devices so that they engage in school online, actions like these from OST providers may become more widespread. When schools and out-of-school time (OST) partners collaborate and securely share information to support student learning, adults working with students both in and out of the classroom have the information they need to make the best decisions for students. In our recent national parent poll, 75 percent of parents supported the secure sharing of data between schools and out-of-school-time partners, and 80 percent supported sharing data between schools and other agencies to coordinate resources and provide additional supports to students and families. As schools continue to provide online instruction this fall, leaders must recognize the value of OST partners and work with them to ensure student success.

Safeguarding student data privacy. A recent Education Week article discusses the new privacy challenges that schools may be facing this year – like the collection and safeguarding of student health data. The Future of Privacy Forum’s Amelia Vance notes, “Schools and districts should have clear plans in place for how they will collect, use, and store health data to ensure it is not ultimately used to limit educational access or opportunities for vulnerable students.” We agree. Changes in teaching practice are happening quickly as schools figure out how to continue online learning—or some hybrid—in the fall. States will need to focus on providing student data privacy and security support so that educators and other stakeholders can trust data and ensure safe use. Our recent COVID-19 brief on student data privacy lays out short- and long-term actions state leaders can take to empower educators to use and safeguard data responsibly as they navigate online learning. For more DQC resources on COVID-19 recovery, click here.