Access, Communications, Transparency

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of September 14

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of September 14

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.

Keeping track of COVID-19 cases. In our last installment of this blog series, we discussed the need for transparency in reporting COVID-19 cases that appear in schools. As more students return to class across the country, we’re seeing greater calls for this kind of transparency in reporting. In Missouri, the state’s teachers union released a document detailing known school closures and exposures. As a result, they called on the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Missouri’s Governor, Mike Parson, to require school districts to report COVID-19 incidents and create a public registry of school-related COVID-19 exposures. South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control has a new dashboard where the department clearly shares data on reported COVID-19 cases in schools. The dashboard, which is updated twice weekly, includes cumulative and rolling 30-day case counts of confirmed cases among students, teachers and faculty members. Indiana is getting ready to launch a similar resource. Leaders and families cannot make decisions about how to keep students and faculty safe without data. And a lack of data transparency in this instance quite literally jeopardizes the health and safety of communities, and can result in a lack of trust between communities and leaders. State and district leaders should look to places like South Carolina that are taking steps to share this information publicly and follow their lead.

Statewide annual assessments and COVID-19. Earlier this month, Secretary DeVos sent a letter to state leaders making it clear that the US Department of Education does not intend to grant waivers to states that wish to opt out of statewide summative assessments for the 2020–2021 school year. We agree that it’s too early to make such an important decision: that’s why we joined 18 organizations in July, recommending that Secretary DeVos refrain from issuing waivers so soon. State leaders need data in order to understand how the pandemic is impacting student academic performance and what supports are needed to ensure success for all students. Statewide summative assessments provide this comparable data, which is critical for informing states’ recovery efforts—a point echoed in the Center for American Progress’s new brief on assessments during the pandemic. During COVID-19, the value of collecting and reporting on a standard measure of student performance is even more important, as leaders seek to understand how they can support all students. Despite this year’s challenges, families and communities still need access to data about how schools are serving all students. Without this data, leaders, educators, and parents are left in the dark about student progress during this uncertain time.

Online learning and continued access issues. For those who have been hardest hit by the pandemic and our nation’s most vulnerable students, there are still major issues with access to school online. As this new school year starts, Los Angeles Unified School District’s kindergarten enrollment has dropped significantly. While it’s too early to know exactly why students haven’t been enrolled this year, it’s unlikely that the issue is entirely about pandemic pods. A Los Angeles Times article cites district leaders noting “a correlation between enrollment decline and communities already hard hit by coronavirus illness and economic hardship.” Schools in Maryland were also expected to encounter issues during their start last week, especially as the state’s department of education lacks data on how many of its public school students have access to technology. Despite efforts in Baltimore City Public Schools to get internet access and devices to students, there were still questions about how many students would be able to log in.

As school and district leaders find out more about why students are missing from their rolls, it’s important that they use this data to ensure those students have access to devices and high-speed internet, and that school leaders are taking time to understand what schools can be doing differently to support parents. Our 2020 public opinion poll, conducted during school closures in April, underscored that parents want to be partners in their students’ education and more than ever, want open lines of communication with their child’s teachers.

Technology and online learning. We’re all wondering how the use of technology and online learning in response to this year’s school closures will impact student learning. Data from the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) may help us find out. IES just released new survey data on teachers’ use of technology for school and homework assignments during the 2018-19 school year. Having data from before the pandemic about how teachers were using technology and how they were dealing with students not having access to needed technology can help the field better understand the impact of this year’s school disruptions. This data from the 2018-19 school year can eventually be compared with information from the current school year to help us see what technology uses are most associated with student learning, how teachers deal with the challenges of students not having access to technology, and the different learning impacts of technology use in classrooms vs. remote learning with technology.