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.
Normally, we’d use this space to discuss data-related items that strictly impact the COVID-19 crisis and recovery efforts. However, ongoing protests and renewed discussions of how to address this country’s systemic racism and oppression of the Black community have encouraged us to use this week’s edition to discuss how data can help us all identify entrenched inequities and how to solve them. That said, COVID-19 and racism aren’t entirely separate issues; this country’s struggle with racism means Black communities were hit the hardest by coronavirus. Education solutions that seek to support recovery in these communities rely on knowing what works.
A recent New York Times article underscores the impact that COVID-19 has had on the Black community, sharing the results of a study that found, “Black workers make up 11.9 percent of all employees but 17 percent of front-line workers.” And new research highlighted in Education Next found that “students living near an officer-involved killing experience significant decreases in grade-point average and increased incidence of emotional disturbance lasting several semesters.” Research found that the effects were greatest for Black and Hispanic students and ultimately, these students exposed to police violence graduate from high school at lower rates and enroll in college at lower rates. As we think about the impact of the pandemic, coupled with the police violence Black students face, the connections are clear. We must use data to shine a light and act on the inequities facing Black youth.
What does data tell us about a path forward? People are protesting for change in cities across the country. What keeps popping for us is how many evidence-based solutions have already been identified. Failing to find a federal database on police misconduct, data scientist Samuel Sinyangwe and others built one, bringing together data from police departments across the country. Using this information, they have been able to understand which interventions or policy changes have the largest impact. And as we know from DQC’s commitment to “start with your questions,” the answer is not always what you think would be the most obvious. Data is key to making sense of what’s happening, digging past the obvious, and charting a path forward. The systemic nature of the crisis at hand means that advocates and policymakers alike need to focus on health, education, and justice data to put evidence and action behind their support of Black lives.
How to prioritize equity in COVID-19 response. Last week, the Alliance for Excellent Education and 13 other organizations released a set of recommendations for prioritizing equity through COVID-19 and recovery. Making these recommendations a reality – which range from fiscal transparency to measuring social-emotional learning – will require robust and transparent data. Data enables education leaders to confront their bias and take an honest look at whether students are growing and identify what is working (or not). But as we’ve seen with federal and state responses to our current health and justice crises, data use requires courage and leadership. We are keeping an eye out for leadership in the education space and will not only highlight here when we see it, but ask you to highlight as well.
Florida commits to reporting skip-year growth data. The Florida Department of Education announced plans to measure student academic growth based on “prior prior year” assessment data from 2019. Growth data measuring how much students learn over time is currently the most equitable measure of student performance we have; it reveals trends and patterns that measures of proficiency miss because it doesn’t correlate with income. This information will be critical in recovery as educators begin to assess the impact of remote learning on students and look to identify emerging best practices. Looking ahead: DQC has convened a working group to develop a fuller brief on this issue, including recommendations, to be released this summer.
Using data to protect Black futures. Lists abound on the steps that leaders can take to better the futures of Black Americans. We found this one, an agenda for Hyattsville, Maryland, which recognizes the important role that both education and data play in ensuring better outcomes – detailing the need for grade-level proficiency in math and reading for all students, as well as high-quality early childhood education for all four-year olds and workforce training. Communities need access to this type of data to help them identify existing gaps. Use of that data provides a starting point to ensuring that their solutions work for students.