Access, Communications, Transparency

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of March 1

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of March 1

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 periodically bringing you our thoughts on the most salient conversations happening 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.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that states would need to move forward with statewide summative assessments for the 2020–21 school year and publish disaggregated results. At the same time, they announced that states could seek waivers on most of ESSA’s accountability provisions including the requirement to assess 95 percent of students and the identification of accountability results (e.g., A–F ratings). This decision reinforces the critical need for states to provide transparent, comparable information about how schools and students fared during this unprecedented year.

We believe this to be the best path forward as it appropriately balances the challenges our schools are facing with the vital importance of the civil rights provisions of ESSA. DQC’s full statement (along with 45 other civil rights, social justice, education, and other organizations) is here.

Nothing has been easy this past year and assessment will not be the exception. But states have a real opportunity to finally get a handle on how the myriad decisions their districts made have played out. Local leaders across 13,000 districts have mostly been left to decide how to define attendance, engage students, deliver instruction, and keep everyone safe. This year’s data will be . . . messy. But when published alongside other key metrics, communities and state leaders can begin to dig in to better understand what worked, where, and for whom.

These assessments provide an opportunity for state leaders, in particular, to:

  • Analyze and publish disaggregated data on which students were and weren’t tested (and for what reason). For example, if remote testing is possible, this data will provide the public with good information on access to broadband and devices.
  • Provide supports and guidance for educators and families to make sense of state assessment results in the context of classroom grades and local assessments; no single data point will provide the complete picture.
  • Develop and publish indicators that break down assessment results by type of instruction in addition to race, status, and other federally required groups.
  • Calculate and publish skip-year growth data to help districts unpack best practices in remote learning. There are widespread predictions about where students will land on proficiency measures but we really have no information about which schools are moving the needle on growth.
  • Ensure data linkages to all types of postsecondary credential-awarding institutions are robust enough to answer questions about outcomes and pathways as students progress in the coming years.

This isn’t the last time in-school learning will be disrupted. States should use this opportunity to understand what worked so they can better manage future disruptions. To that end, DQC and partners have asked for a federal investment of $350 million to update state and local data infrastructure so they can address current and future information needs. It’s time to focus on the opportunities to use data to support all our students through this crisis and beyond.