School leaders are facing unprecedented challenges in meeting student, educator, and family needs. The COVID-19 pandemic drastically shifted the ways schools operate, leaving many students, families, and teachers scrambling in the spring. Thankfully as schools start again this fall, many school leaders are leading with information and lessons learned in the spring. Whether students are going back online, in-person or some combination of the two, some school leaders highlight the importance of gathering as much information as they can to make the new school year as smooth as possible.
Schools must lead with information to make the best decisions for students, families and teachers. They must not only gather information from communities but also prioritize sharing that information back with those who need it most. Communication is critical as schools try to assess student and educator needs for the upcoming school year.
Education data helps teachers and families do the following:
- Understand where students are and where they need to grow.
- Identify students that are at-risk and provide them the appropriate supports.
- Understand how different groups of students are being served by their districts and schools.
In addition, data on student and family well-being helps schools understand what supports they can provide to ensure that students are able to fully engage in learning safely and productively. Fortunately, schools across the country are thinking about how to get and share relevant data with those who need it most.
Below are some of the strategies schools are using now to lead with data:
- Using parent portals to share student data with families.
Schools should ensure that families and guardians have the data they need to support student learning while school is happening online. Parent and family portals are tools that schools can use to safely share student data with families so they are equipped with the right information to help students excel while they learn online.
YES Prep Charter School in Houston, TX is not only collecting relevant data from students and families, they are ensuring that data is shared back in a useable way through their family portal. The portal gives families one central place to see helpful information like attendance, test scores, missing assignments and student discipline data. YES Prep prioritized making this data timely and user friendly for families. The charter network is committed to continuously gathering family feedback about the utility of the family portal to make sure it is as helpful as possible to families. Their family portal tool is an invaluable resource as parents take a more hands-on role in their students’ education due to online learning. Read more on the benefits of parent and family portals here.
- Assessing family needs through input surveys.
Schools can better understand how to serve students and families by formally assessing their needs through online surveys. Survey data allows school leaders to plan for online learning knowing what works for students and what challenges they may encounter.
In a recent webinar, the Flamboyan Foundation shared what they learned through a virtual convening of Washington, DC stakeholders to better understand what communities want. One example, from DC’s Garrison Elementary School, highlighted that educators were gathering family input during the summer to better implement online learning in the fall. The school sent out a survey to families asking about a number of topics important to their experience during online learning. Questions sought to find information on what times work best for online lessons, connectivity challenges and online activities that were of interest to students and caregivers. Teachers at the school underscored the importance of having this information early to help plan for the start of school in the fall.
- Building relationships with families through virtual home visits.
Starting the school year by building strong relationships with students and families is even more helpful during online learning where classes are not able to meet in person. Virtual home visits are being used by schools to not only give school leaders important information about family needs, but also as a way to build relationships with families.
Another example shared by the Flamboyan Foundation was from DC’s Brookland Middle School, where teachers and school leaders were working to build relationships prior to the start of the school year. Through stakeholder outreach, the Flamboyan Foundation found that student and family well-being has become increasingly important to school leaders and education advocates as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual home visits can help educators gather important information about students and families, particularly about any non-academic needs.
These examples provide a small sample of some ways schools are choosing to lead with data during the challenging circumstances of schooling during a pandemic. School leaders must keep in mind the importance of gathering and sharing data with those who need it most to ensure that students remain on track for success.