From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of May 11

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of May 11

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.

The field is coming together around paths forward; it will require an attention and dedication to data. American Enterprise Institute Visiting Fellow John Bailey (also DQC’s Board Chair) and Resident Scholar Rick Hess, alongside a bipartisan group of education experts, released A Blueprint for Back to School to guide school leaders as they think through what needs to happen between now and when it’s safe for schools to reopen. The blueprint identifies myriad points at which school, district and state leaders will need to make decisions – many with data implications. Here’s what’s top of mind for us:

  • Assessment and growth data: Growth is currently the best equity indicator of student performance that we have, and it’s critical for states to prioritize this information if we’re to identify and elevate best practices. Looking ahead: DQC is producing a new resource, to be released this summer, with recommendations on how to measure growth absent 2020 assessments.
  • Social-emotional learning (SEL) data: Adopting SEL practices to better support student needs, as the blueprint suggests, will be helpful. But leaders will also have a responsibility to be transparent with the public about the necessary data investments that will help build and measure students’ skills.
  • Student Privacy: It’s clear that some portion of next year will require remote learning and educators will have to lean on integrating technology. State and federal leaders need to begin planning now how they’re going to provide clear guidance, training, and supports to districts on safeguarding privacy.
  • Teacher data: The blueprint leans on data to identify a shocking reality that 18 percent of teachers and 27 percent of principals nationally are in a high-risk category simply because of their age. States and districts will need to dig into their educator workforce data to identify all vulnerable educator populations and create solutions that are right for their educators, students and schools. This analysis may lead many states to realize they don’t have robust educator workforce available to them to drive these policy solutions.

On May 5, more than 70 education groups sent a letter to Congress, supporting states’ request for $500 billion in funding and requesting that half of these funds be directed toward K–12 and higher education spending – specifically in ways that will benefit historically marginalized services and those in need during this difficult time. This letter, and other policy proposals on federal stimulus funds, are exactly why we’re thinking about the need for new measures and an investment in data system infrastructure to support their development. For example, the letter recognizes that students need to be connected to the internet, but as a country, we don’t know which families have access. The letter also calls out the need for summer programs to address learning loss and new wraparound services for students including mental health programs. States will need to invest in the infrastructure to collect new data about how these programs served students to inform further programmatic investments and better serve impacted populations in the long run.

What data should we even be asking for or expect this year? We’re getting asked this question a lot, and you’re probably thinking about it too. To start, here’s a blog post where Jenn and some of DQC’s Board members download their best thinking. Here’s what we should expect at a minimum:

  • Attendance: Schools and districts have seven months of data on attendance, and it’s unlikely that attendance numbers would have improved in the remaining months of the school year. Chronic absence can still be calculated and reported. Schools should supplement this data with other evidence including students logging in, returning emails/calls, and submitting homework.
  • Attempts to reach families: How often did schools reach out to families and by what means? Were they successful? It will be important to capture this as districts will need to rely on best practices next year.
  • Students without internet and devices in the home: Without internet or a device, students can’t participate in distance learning activities, making it even more important that we know exactly how many are without them. To be successful next year, we need to move towards thinking of broadband as a public utility and this begins with knowing who has internet and who doesn’t.
  • Information on AP and CTE coursework: Districts have scheduling information and we should be asking for data on AP enrollment, completion, and test taking/scores. The same is true for CTE data and any other high school college and career readiness program. Communities will want to examine how school closures affected completion and success rates.
  • Postsecondary enrollment: Currently, 15+ states don’t publish postsecondary enrollment by high school on school report cards. Without this information, especially as our economy changes due to the pandemic, the public is in the dark about how many students are pursuing postsecondary options. States should be sharing the full picture of postsecondary enrollment by reporting this data by high school.
  • FAFSA applications: FAFSA applications have dropped significantly. Data on the number of FAFSA applications completed can uncover larger trends in college enrollment and persistence, particularly for low-income students. If students are home next year, states and districts will be able to look back on this year’s data to find bright spots and elevate best practices around student engagement.
  • Measures of student learning: Any measure of student learning won’t be comparable and likely won’t get to state-level trends, but districts need to share something. Last week, we mentioned a new Ohio law (HB 197) that suspends accountability but requires that performance data collected to date be posted by September – which is one way to take the pressure off of schools and encourage them to share this information publicly. Districts should at least get some measures posted on their own website if they can’t get them to the state.
  • School climate: Schools should have some measure of school climate prior to March and should share that coupled with any survey data they collected after schools moved to distance learning.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announces blueprint to reimagine education. New York State is developing a blueprint to consider what education should look like in the future. What we know is that this blueprint must include data linkages to support a student’s journey from early learning K–12 and into college or a career. Linking data systems will enable the state to capitalize on the data it has to not only understand where leaders need to make changes, but also where it should focus state action in education. As a former leader for the New York City Department of Education, Jenn notes that sharing information and outcomes would help connect downstate and upstate in order to help tackle persistent issues that have historically been addressed solely by region.

The New York Times covered one idea to get schools reopened safely: randomized clinical trials. They suggest that reopening districts in a randomized trial could provide reliable information. Regardless of whether this is an avenue worth pursuing, it’s yet another signal that data is necessary to inform those difficult decisions in the same way that data has been so crucial in the public health aspect of this crisis.

Advocacy orgs shift to COVID-related goals. 50CAN released updated goals for each of its local campaigns. Notably, goals for many of these local campaigns are focused on data – from assessments and diagnostic tools to transparency and reporting. We have seen (and reported on) state legislatures stepping up their efforts to codify transparency, data use and supports, and tools in recent years which  leads us to believe that these local campaigns may have an engaged audience.