Access, Communications, Transparency

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of November 23

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of November 23

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.

Finding “lost” students. The problem of getting kids to school—whether online or in person—has been a constant theme of the pandemic. Last week, we touched on the alarming surge of chronic absenteeism among elementary school students in several California districts, and this week we’re reading about efforts in New Mexico to locate more than 12,000 “lost students”—K–12 students who were enrolled in schools in the spring but have not showed up to classes in the fall.

We are happy to see leadership in the state stepping up to call for cross-agency data sharing and partnerships to help tackle this problem. In a press release, New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) Secretary Ryan Stewart said, “We owe it to these students and to the future of our state to find them and help them overcome whatever obstacles are preventing them from participating in our education system.” The state is working across agencies to find students’ last known addresses and initiate outreach and family visits. The work also highlights how important wraparound services can be to children—located students can be connected with PED’s ENGAGE New Mexico program, which provides academic coaching around returning to classes, overcoming barriers like technology, and even offering social-emotional support. Data on which students haven’t returned and why, coupled with linked data that can help leaders identify the specific supports students need, is key to recovery.

“Changing the narrative” on data reporting. Education Dive reports on how leaders from several states are thinking creatively about assessment and accountability this year after the US Department of Education said that assessment waivers will not be granted for the 2020–21 school year. DQC’s Allie Ball has an update on how many states are approaching assessment, including a huge range of reactions toward tests, from outright opposition to valuing the need for student performance information. We couldn’t say it better than Allie does: “In this uncertain time, it is crucial that parents and leaders not be left in the dark. Administering statewide assessments this year is one way that state leaders can remain informed about student progress and identify where resources are needed.”

State leaders also have concerns about using testing data this year to rate school performance, and some states are considering limiting what information is released—Oklahoma, for example, is thinking about putting out information through a secure portal for district administrators only. One state accountability leader says he hopes shifting mindsets about data reporting could last beyond COVID-19, “considering it’s been difficult for the state to ‘get away from blaming and shaming’ and refocus accountability on support and improvement.” We should all strive to change the narrative around data from punishment to continuous improvement! But this can’t become an obstacle to getting information into the hands of families and communities, who deserve transparency. Hiding data is not the way to build trust with people, even during times of great disruption.

Progress in California. This week, Paige wrote a blog post about all the work California has done to create a statewide data system “that would provide students and families with information they need to identify opportunities and plan for the future, help state agencies improve education and workforce policies and programs, and support statewide research efforts.” Crucial to these efforts is ensuring that data doesn’t get trapped in silos—especially in California, where multiple agencies collect student data throughout individuals’ education and career pathways. The state’s work to connect disparate systems will enable Californians to answer questions about the most effective supports to help students transitioning from K–12 to postsecondary/workforce and about how early childhood experiences and opportunities impact students’ long-term outcomes.

Thinking about education as a total ecosystem is so important, and something that Michael Funk, the California Department of Education’s (CDE) director of Expanded Learning, writes about this week in The 74 regarding afterschool programs. State leadership marshalled during the pandemic crisis to give all 4,500 afterschool programs funded by CDE maximum flexibility on decisions like hours of operation and student-staff ratios. As Funk writes, “it is imperative in this crisis to deepen the link between schools and community partners,” and to us that means strengthening the data-sharing connection between schools and out-of-school time (OST) programs. As we’ve written before, it’s essential that collaborative partnerships between OST programs and schools are able to help prepare students for their future by bridging learning in and out of the classroom—and that work must be supported by the secure sharing of education data to ensure OST programs are tuned into students’ individual needs.

It’s cheering to us that California leaders are thinking carefully about the full ecosystem of education data. For more information, check out our new infographic on California’s data landscape, why navigating key decisions is harder when data is stuck in silos, and why a statewide solution lays the groundwork for a path to success, see our new infographic—available in English and Spanish.

We’ll be skipping next week’s Kitchen Table post to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday and will be back with our next edition on December 7. Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!