Access, Communications, Transparency

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of June 15

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of June 15

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.

Working to equip states, districts, schools and students with data necessary for decisionmaking. As new research shows how far behind students may have fallen, state leaders are beginning to step up and support districts with data as they make plans to assess learning loss and develop a path forward.

We discussed Texas’s decision to provide optional assessments a few weeks ago and now, Tennessee has shared its plan. The state will provide districts with three free, optional “assessment supports” for next year, which districts can use at their discretion. According to Tennessee’s Education Commissioner, “When the COVID-19 pandemic forced prolonged school building closures and canceled spring assessments, it became even more important that districts and schools can reliably gather student data and understand student readiness for the next school year.” Schools, teachers and parents will need information to understand what students learned (or didn’t) during this remote period and where to start in the fall, regardless of whether instruction is in-person or continues to be remote. Assessments (and the tools and analytics to make the data actionable) are expensive but, given looming budget cuts, states are better positioned to support districts at scale with information they need to ensure students catch up and make progress.

Education Dive reports that California, one of two states that doesn’t report a growth measure for student academic progress, is finally considering one. The California Department of Education has created a working group, with plans to propose a new model this fall for state adoption. Growth measures provide critical information about student academic progress and help identify which schools are moving students further than average. As states and districts plan for recovery, they need this information to know where to look for promising practices. As growth data is the best equity indicator states have, they must consider using skip-year growth measures to calculate growth in 2021.

COVID response requires rethinking indicators. In partnership with FutureEd, Attendance Works released its Attendance Playbook: Smart Strategies for Reducing Chronic Absence in the Covid Era, which includes 26 strategies to address student chronic absence. Continuing to measure indicators like attendance rates requires states and districts to think about what data they actually need – and what questions they want to answer. However, new research from the Center on Reinventing Public Education found that just 21 percent of districts reported providing live instruction to students and only 32 percent of districts required schools to even track attendance this spring. Continuing to collect and share this information publicly through avenues like state report cards is an important step toward transparency and keeping the dialog open about how to move forward.

In postsecondary news, Cleveland is bucking the nationwide trend of falling FAFSA completion rates. In fact, the city’s high school students have completed FAFSA applications at higher rates than last year. States will need to bolster indicators around postsecondary enrollment and completion to help local leaders understand pathways. This data is especially important now so that states and districts can plan and allocate resources, especially as trends point to potential increases in in-state and community college enrollment.

Student data privacy and COVID-19. The pandemic is prompting state leaders and educators to look for new ways of protecting student privacy since it appears that remote learning is here to stay in some form. We’re seeing an uptick in legislating and rulemaking in the higher education privacy space as three states have taken action to address privacy:

  • Louisiana’s legislature sent HB 740 to the governor. This bill would prohibit the sharing of postsecondary students’ directory information without consent, except when needed for employees to perform official duties
  • In Massachusetts, S 2736 passed committee. The bill specifies that institutions of higher education “shall not be required to produce education records” including “directory information,” except requests from federal, state and municipal agencies.
  • The North Dakota Higher Education Board adopted a new student data privacy rule, which states that public colleges cannot sell or release student information for advertising purposes and assures students of their right to restrict access to “directory information.”

Student data privacy must be front and center in discussions about moving forward to ensure that teachers have the tools they need to teach and students can learn in a safe environment. To that end, the Center for Democracy and Technology has created a training module that is meant to equip “practitioners with the knowledge needed to create a safe virtual learning environment for their students.”

Ed Trust–West is identifying data limitations and finding workable solutions. In The Education Trust–West’s latest report, the California-based advocacy organization aims “to highlight the real impact of school and college closures on data.” The report recognizes that collecting the usual data is not always possible during school closures, but pushes leaders to think about how they can find workable solutions to ensure data is collected and used. Ed Trust–West makes clear that, as California works to develop its P–20W data system, linking data to understand student progress and move forward with solutions is vital to the state’s recovery.  We couldn’t agree more – and recently asked some of the same questions of the experts that make up DQC’s Board of Directors, read their perspectives here.

New York City holds on to remote learning survey data. With a May 1 deadline, the New York City Department of Education asked parents and students to share their thoughts on how remote learning was working. A New York Post piece notes that, more than a month later, the city has not shared the results publicly. As families navigate this uncertain time, transparency is key. Sharing information with the public – especially about how the city has fared during the unexpected interruption in classroom learning – will help leaders and communities understand the best way to move forward to ensure student success.

Parents have had to act as de facto teachers during this time of remote learning – and they deeply understand their child’s progress, despite not being classroom teachers. In fact, one parent took to The 74 to share what she has learned about her child during remote learning and how she will want to share that data with her child’s teacher in the fall. Parent perspectives on whether remote learning was successful and how it could be improved for the fall and beyond is a data point that states and districts should take seriously.

Looking ahead: DQC asked parents and teachers nationally to share their experiences with remote learning for our 2020 polls. Check back later this month as we share the results.