Access, Communications, Transparency

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of August 3

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of August 3

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.

The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) is continuing to track district plans through its database, which now includes fall 2020 reopening plans for 117 districts and charter management organizations. With such a wealth of information about district reopening trends, we couldn’t help but take another look. What we saw in many areas was concerning.

Only about one-tenth of districts are planning to provide coaching/support to teachers in an online learning setting and just over one-third expect teachers to even provide feedback on student work. As we enter a new school year where many, if not most, teachers will be continuing instruction online, it will be crucial for schools to understand which students are able to access instruction and which are engaged. Teachers were thrown into online learning just as much as students and parents during the spring shutdown. School and district leaders must prioritize data use (a critical component of feedback) and make sure teachers have the tools necessary to use it. That means teachers need dedicated professional development to strengthen remote teaching practices and use data-based feedback to support students online.

School and district leaders must take steps to understand where their students are academically and if they are able to engage in schoolwork. Recent research found that 59 percent of teachers and 77 percent of principals were able to contact all or nearly all of their students and families during school closures, “though this number varied considerably depending on school demographics.” Another recent survey found that high-poverty districts were less likely to monitor if students completed their work, if students were interacting with their teachers, and if students were logging into their school district’s online programs. Alarmingly, “some 15% of high-poverty districts said they didn’t monitor student participation at all, while only 1% of low-poverty districts said the same.” Schools must work with educators to find ways to understand and track attendance and engagement data. Without it, educators are teaching in the dark and schools will be unable to identify best practices for online learning.

Few districts plan to provide interventions/supports based on student learning loss diagnostics and less than one quarter expect schools to diagnose learning loss at all. Of those districts listed in CRPE’s database that are planning to address student learning loss, Atlanta (GA), Des Moines (IA) and Oakland (CA) shared promising practices.

  • Atlanta Public Schools will hold a two-week period dedicated to assessing students’ needs across academics, social emotional learning, and health/wellbeing in the beginning of the year.
  • Des Moines Public Schools is developing a system for tracking and monitoring student needs (both academic and social-emotional).
  • Oakland Unified School District has a proactive re-engagement strategy for attendance-taking and follow-up, even during remote learning. District leadership is important as schools work to reopen and gauge where students are academically.

Looking ahead: As schools examine data for recovery, they must also continue to administer statewide annual assessments and measure student academic growth. Stay tuned for a new report by DQC, the Alliance for Excellent Education, and Collaborative for Student Success on how states can measure growth in 2021.  

Only twenty-nine percent of districts have plans to offer parent supports. One key support that districts must tackle right now is ensuring that parents have real time access to their child’s data as well as supports to use it. Parents always need access to their child’s data – and it’s even more necessary for recovery. Last week, DQC released a brief highlighting parent portals as a key COVID-19 recovery strategy. Read more on best practices from Texas, Rhode Island, and Georgia.

Just over half of districts are committing to providing devices to all or some students in need. And one-third plan to provide hotspots/WiFi access to all or some students in need. The pandemic continues to shine a light on this country’s digital divide and the inability of far too many students to access online learning during the shutdown. Until leaders understand which students have devices and high-speed internet access at home, the digital divide continues to be a problem of equity and transparency. As the Council of Chief State School Officers and Education Superhighway noted in their blueprint, high-quality data collection is needed to identify which students are impacted. State and district education leaders must take steps to ensure that they understand and report exactly which groups of students have access to high-speed internet and online learning resources at home and which groups do not. Once leaders have that information, they must publicly report this data and take immediate action to remedy inequities.