Access, Communications, Transparency

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of July 27

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of July 27

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.

You’ve heard us talk before about starting with your questions, and as schools and districts enter the uncharted territory of reopening, that sentiment is especially important. With discussions now turning to “pandemic pods” and other homeschool-style options, state leaders need think about what questions they have and want the answers to. If states want to answer questions about how students progressed in different learning environments, leaders will need to consider about how to collect information on what type of learning environment students were in and how different options, like pandemic pods, fit into that.

Texas to support students pursuing postsecondary education. Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that the state will “allocate an additional $118 million in federal funding to support higher education in Texas, including $93 million to help students continue or restart their progress toward earning a post-secondary credential or degree.” Students—especially those from low-income families —are having to make tough decisions about whether to start or continue their postsecondary education or stay home to work and support their families. Leadership like Governor Abbott’s is necessary during recovery.

While state and higher education leaders should use their own data to understand how many students may not return to higher education during this time and what they can do to help those students, it’s worth discussing the state of postsecondary data nationally. Federal funding through programs like Early Learning challenge grants, State Longitudinal Data System grants and the Workforce Data Quality Initiative have helped states strengthen data in every sector except postsecondary, which is now the weak link in states. As states look to data for COVID-19 recovery, we expect to see more investments in postsecondary and P–20W data systems overall.

More on assessments and accountability. A recent commentary in The 74 discusses assessments – and why states shouldn’t walk away from them this school year. The major debate about assessments hinges on accountability and whether states will be held accountable for student test scores this year. The author, Education Strategy Consulting’s Ben Sayeski, asks states to consider divorcing 2021 assessments from accountability in favor of the benefits of assessments. Sayeski argues that “end-of-year exams are the only uniform avenue to disaggregated achievement data by demographics.” We agree. By cancelling 2021 assessments, everyone loses the crucial information gained through assessment data. Not only does assessment data provide leaders and communities with information about student progress, it will allow leaders to pinpoint potential recovery strategies and implement the most effective approaches to get students back on track. Some state leaders have already shown their support for 2021 assessments, including Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, who denied a school district’s request for an assessment waiver. Unequivocally, states should move forward with assessments this year.

The pandemic has highlighted huge gaps in access to high-speed home internet. An analysis of 2018 data released by the Alliance for Excellent Education, National Urban League, UnidosUS, and the National Indian Education Association found that 16.9 million children age 17 or younger in 8.4 million households do not have high-speed home internet. Access to internet and at-home devices has significantly impacted students’ ability to learn during the shutdown and will have ramifications for years to come if leaders don’t take steps to remedy this issue. But leaders will never know the extent of the problem if the data isn’t shared publicly. This data should be collected by states and reported alongside accountability data on school report cards. And if states don’t step up, it might be worth adding to the Civil Rights Data Collection.

While tracking and reporting existing internet access matters, it only fixes one problem – and doesn’t address the issue that parents with kids who aren’t school aged quite yet also might not have access to the internet or devices. During a panel at the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar last week, Representative Bobby Scott, chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said definitively that he supports making internet a public utility. Not only is it important for the conversation to remain focused on getting all students access to high-speed internet, there is great value in reporting this information annually. Students constantly come and go from schools and districts, and the data should be current.

Chalkbeat reported that “Indiana’s lax regulation of home schooling and its method for calculating graduation rates are masking the extent of many schools’ dropout problems.” The article notes that Indiana schools are classifying dropouts as homeschoolers, which leaves the student out of the school’s graduation rate calculation and can improve the school’s rating in Indiana’s accountability system. Transparency matters. And so does clear data governance. Information like this must be publicly reported so that communities understand what’s happening behind the numbers. And schools and districts need clear guidance about how to classify students so that they aren’t hiding damaging trends. State leaders must create a culture of data use that ensures that district leaders, school leaders and teachers understand the importance of using data to shine a light on inconsistencies and inequities.

Research for reopening and recovery. Results for America and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University are out with four new EdResearch for Recovery briefs. The briefs touch on using evidence to help plan for shrinking district budgets, supporting students, especially those experiencing homelessness, and teacher training. Leaders must prioritize data and evidence to ensure that recovery is effective and safe for students and teachers. Decisionmakers should use data to draw from evidence-based approaches as the plan for the future of school.

The Collaborative for Student Success and Center for Reinventing Public Education have announced the names of experts who will review school district reopening plans. Their goal is to highlight promising practices in meeting the challenges presented by COVID-19. We expect to see that plans that utilize data to develop, adjust, monitor and measure impact will rise to the top. Read more here.

Protecting student privacy. The Center for Democracy and Technology has released guidance on data and student privacy for reopening schools. This guidance addresses data governance, community engagement, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) compliance, and other aspects of student privacy protection. Additionally, a recent article in District Administration covers protecting student health privacy as adults in schools potentially become responsible for daily screenings in schools that reopen, which must also comply with FERPA. Regardless of how schools move forward, student data privacy should be a priority. There are real concerns about keeping student data safe and secure as schools navigate this uncertain time. The Student Data Principles are a good place to start.