Equity, State Advocacy, Transparency

How States Are Using COVID-19 Relief Funding to Strengthen Data Systems and Promote Effective Data Use

How States Are Using COVID-19 Relief Funding to Strengthen Data Systems and Promote Effective Data Use

Rachel Wallace, a former education programming associate and research assistant, is the Data Quality Campaign’s Fall 2021 Graduate Intern. She is passionate about using data to advance equitable learning opportunities and promote racial equity. 

To ensure that every individual gets the support they need and address long-standing disparities, states and districts must prioritize data in COVID-19 recovery strategies. Following the disruptions in learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019–20 and 2020–21, Congress invested an unprecedented amount of money to assist pandemic recovery efforts through the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) fund, among other sources (DQC highlighted opportunities for states to use these funds to strengthen state data systems and support effective data use here). And now that all states have submitted their ARP ESSER plans, we wanted to see exactly how states will use data for recovery strategies—including the information they are using to inform recovery efforts, how they will invest in data systems, and other ways they will use data to support students and individuals.  

Almost all states are using data to better understand the impact of the pandemic on student learning. Most state plans describe using data from statewide assessments to measure differences in achievement from before the pandemic. Some states will supplement these results with other types of learning data, such as formative assessment data, interim test scores, and English Language Proficiency (ELP) assessment results. States are also looking at opportunity-to-learn indicators, such as attendance, enrollment, and mode of instruction data, to identify students who participated in remote and hybrid instruction. Research has shown that students enrolled in remote learning experienced greater learning losses than those attending in-person school, and may require additional support.  

States are using this data to inform funding decisions and direct resources to students who need it most. Although the full impact of the pandemic may not be known for years, state leaders are taking steps to support particularly vulnerable student groups. States like Kentucky and Louisiana outline data-focused strategies for supporting students, such as early warning systems and targeted literacy programs. Other states, including Connecticut and Maryland, are strengthening individualized education programs (IEPs), utilizing data to develop strengths and needs assessments, make eligibility determinations for education services, and specially design IEP instruction in response to the pandemic.  

In addition to academic strategies, many states are prioritizing students’ nonacademic needs in their ARP ESSER plans. Experts and state leaders alike have discussed the role of social, emotional, and other mental health needs in student success, and many states are directing funds toward new initiatives to support student wellness. For example, Delaware implemented a Social, Emotional, Behavioral Wellbeing (SEBW) Plan that utilizes screening, progress monitoring, and implementation data to identify social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students. However, other state plans do not address the role of data in understanding and addressing students’ social, emotional, and mental health needs, making this an area for future improvement.  

Overwhelmingly, state leaders are focused on the need to better support educators. Almost all state plans mention statewide teacher shortages and propose strategies to recruit and retain more teachers, such as bonuses and professional development opportunities. However, very few plans discuss the need for teacher data literacy or supporting teacher data use, both of which are critical for helping educators understand students’ needs and provide supports.  

Despite these missed opportunities to use data to meet key goals, most states will use ARP ESSER funds to strengthen data systems and promote effective data use. States are directing funding towards expanded student and educator data collection, grant management systems, increased security measures, and better local education agency (LEA) data usage. Some states placed an emphasis on increased transparency, including Georgia, which published an ESSER funding transparency dashboard. 

State ESSER plans include many bright spots for data usage, but state agencies will need to strengthen their data collection capacities and efforts to make these plans a reality. And because 90% of ESSER funds go directly to the local level, further details about LEA spending and prioritization are critical to understanding how recovery efforts will unfold on the ground. States and districts have an unprecedented opportunity to invest in policies and practices that make data work for all students and practitioners. By doing so, they can lay the foundation for a successful recovery and continued improvement moving forward.