From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of May 18

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of May 18

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.

We’re seeing consensus among leaders. Thought leaders and elected leaders like state chiefs and governors are sharing their thoughts on recovery – and we’re seeing those thoughts come together on solutions.

In an interview with The 74, former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings discussed the importance of understanding where students are academically, noting that “we cannot get out of the habit of measuring students and their progress.” Her comments underscore the value of assessments and other educator observations in ensuring that students get what they need academically. A new survey of state leaders by the Foundation for Excellence in Education found that most state leaders agree, indicating that “they are considering plans to require, recommend or support the assessment of student academic progress and learning loss when schools begin the 2020-21 school year.” Considering how, when and what is necessary to assess students academically is important, especially in vulnerable communities. Often, students from these communities are denied placement in Algebra by 8th grade or in other rigorous coursework like AP classes. Assessments give parents objective data that they can use to ensure their students are placed in the appropriate courses next year, especially given the varied implementation of distance learning across the country. This information is yet another data point that parents can use to advocate for their kids.

Chiefs for Change is also out with a new report on reopening schools. They note that, “solutions will emerge in the field from leaders who have a commitment to evidence, a deep knowledge of the obstacles of their community, and the trust of families.” The organization’s proposed solutions include creating effective staffing models, prioritizing social-emotional learning, using high-quality curricular materials and assessments, and changing the school-year calendar – all actions that will require the use of data (and renewed investment in data system infrastructure across early childhood, K–12, and postsecondary systems). What’s interesting is that most of these items are steps that states and districts have been debating for some time. Basing these decisions in evidence will help state leaders, districts and schools decide what changes are right for them – and implement any changes effectively.

In a note published by the Education Commission of the States, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf also calls for using data to make decisions in recovery, emphasizing the need to consider equity while developing recovery policies.

Measuring student progress is even more important during a pandemic. Fortunately, Texas is providing parents and educators with a new avenue to get more information on student progress. Texas has announced that it will provide optional tests – in place of this year’s cancelled statewide assessment – for parents and educators to administer. The tests will cover the same subjects and grade levels, and will give provide parents and educators a window into what students have learned remotely, but the state will not use the test scores for accountability this year. Importantly, information gleaned from these assessments will (1) provide context for what students have learned and identify areas where students need more support, and (2) allow parents and educators to see in black and white how remote learning worked for their students and use that information to shape the process moving forward.

Now is not the time to skip out on transparency. In our first blog post, we applauded Ohio for passing HB197 requiring that performance data “collected to date” by districts must be published. Now, we see disappointing news from North Carolina; they did not opt for transparency. North Carolina’s recently enacted COVID-19 Recovery Act (SB 704) specifies that schools “are not required” to publish report card data for the 2019-2020 school year and must instead display an explanation that assessment data was not collected due to COVID-19. In lieu of accountability reporting, the law requires districts to report to the State Board the number and percentage of 1st through 3rd grade students that are on track and not on track to meet year-end expectations based on assessments completed on or before March 13, 2020. Once buildings reopen to students for the coming school year, North Carolina will require schools to administer to all 4th graders the end-of-year reading diagnostic assessment normally required for 3rd graders in order to inform instruction and remediation. With 2020 state assessments cancelled and ESSA accountability requirements waived, it is more important than ever that states and districts publish what they’ve got.

Districts also have data; they should be digging in. This tweet from Highline (Washington) Public Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield is an important reminder that districts have access to new data, and they should be using it.

Education research can – and will – help in recovery. A new research partnership announced this week, the Illinois Workforce and Education Research Collaborative, will focus on research that answers questions about education and job readiness in the state. As we’ve noted before, research partnerships provide leaders the evidence-based information they need to benefit students – and a focus on workforce data as students work to navigate the post-COVID economy will provide important context for the field. For more on how research can benefit recovery, Paige teamed up with Results for America’s Sara Kerr in Education Week to discuss how education researchers can shift their focus to help the education community understand how it can best help students move forward and thrive.

Kentucky’s Prichard Committee is listening… to students. Many organizations are polling parents and teachers (including the Data Quality Campaign, stay tuned!) to understand how the shift to remote learning has impacted their opinions of education and student success. But the Prichard Committee, a leader in highlighting student voice, wants to hear from students. As we move through this crisis and into recovery, the student voice will be crucial in understanding how distance learning has impacted student success from their perspective.