Access, Communications, Transparency

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of July 20

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of July 20

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.

States and districts are announcing their plans and conversations about reopening continue. It’s clear that parents and teachers are split about the right decision for them and their families. As these debates carry on, Education Week’s new tracker details district reopening plans and FutureEd is sharing their review of state guidance. FutureEd’s review covers recommendations for “six of the most important issues facing schools: meals, school schedules and classroom setups, face coverings, school buses, temperature checks and symptoms, and handwashing” and found that states are leaving many decisions to local districts.

No matter what decisions states and districts make about reopening, data is key. Without data on how many families feel comfortable sending their kids back to the classroom, which teachers are willing to return, and how to improve online learning and track student attendance remotely this year, states and districts are making assumptions about the right path forward. State and district leaders must use the data at their disposal to make decisions that support student success, no matter how their schools resume teaching in the fall. In addition to using this data for their own decisionmaking, it’s especially important that leaders share this information when communicating to parents about why they’ve made those decisions.

Assessments and accountability. Last week, the Collaborative for Student Success compiled a memo highlighting recent survey data on assessments. The surveys (including our 2020 national parent poll) found that those closest to students—school administrators, teachers and parents—all support assessments and the use of data to understand how students progressed academically during the shutdown and ensure students get back on track. Data from assessments is crucial to understanding how much students learned online this spring and allows leaders to identify what worked and what didn’t as they make plans for the new school year.

Conversations about the future of assessments are inevitability intertwined with discussion of state accountability systems. As states question or rethink the future of their accountability systems post-COVID, the experts at Bellwether Education Partners detailed questions that states should consider – and will host a webinar with national education leaders to discuss accountability on July 20th. Both assessments and accountability systems provide information on how schools are serving groups of students, and provide data that allows leaders to make decisions to help them improve. But we shouldn’t let discussions about accountability interfere with the need for assessments at all levels. Without data, parents, families, communities and others are in the dark about student academic progress.

The US Department of Education announced its intention to move the latest Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) update to the 2020-2021 school year (instead of 2019-2020) and raised the possibility of not collecting data from all public schools in the next round. Rightfully, this is unnerving many education advocates. Districts will undoubtedly struggle this year to collect data to report to the CRDC, but the department should be issuing guidance and information about the most used data points that they collect in order to encourage states to collect and share this data, at minimum. States should also consider collecting and reporting this information on behalf of districts.

Data is most useful when, through multiple indicators, it provides a clear picture of opportunities for all students. The CRDC is meant to ensure that parents and other stakeholders have the information they need to identify and address inequities in opportunities for students—and will be especially important as school and district leaders work to understand how the pandemic has affected different groups of students. Without timely updates, states and districts will not be able to utilize this important data collection for recovery.

Re-skilling the workforce. With record unemployment and a changing economy, experts are thinking about how to get people back to work—and that will include training individuals for new careers. In fact, a New York Times piece last week covered bipartisan calls for massive investments in re-skilling programs. But none of this can be accomplished without linked data. Linking data systems allows individuals to identify high-needs careers and seek out reliable training to enter into those industries. It helps students graduating from high school or postsecondary education understand the potential outcomes for students like them in industries of interest and where to go to seek those opportunities. Without linked data, both job-seeking individuals and employers are left in the dark. States that have robust data systems that link information across sectors will be better equipped to help their individuals and industries recover.