Delaware Leverages Data to Make Well-Informed Policy Decisions
Like many states, Delaware has been collecting a broad range of education data for quite some time, data that could be used to conduct robust analyses and inform policy and practice. Until recently, however, the state lacked the analytic capacity necessary to turn those data into useful information.
“At the end of the day,” says Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy, “you can build the systems, and that is all really important work, but if you do not have people who have great capabilities in how to use that data and how to turn that data into usable formats for educators and policymakers, then it will just live and die in that database and not actually inform policy, not actually inform practice.”
Now, with the help of a data strategist, Delaware is using its data to make well-informed policy decisions.
The Importance of Analytic Capacity in the State Education Agency
Through a partnership with the Strategic Data Project (SDP), the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) was able to hire a data strategist that sits in a program office and works closely with Secretary Murphy. Data strategists work to bridge policy, data, and technology; build systems and capacity; and ask new questions (beyond compliance and reporting) of the organization’s existing data resources. As a result of this newfound analytic capacity, DDOE has been able to turn the data already housed in its information system into actionable information.
No longer are data compiled and analyzed in a vacuum without knowledge of the programs or policies those data represent. No longer are critical policy decisions made without access to the data needed to inform them. Having a data strategist in a program office ensures Delaware’s programs and policies are developed and evaluated based on what’s happening in Delaware schools.
The SDP Diagnostics
Data strategist Atnre Alleyne and the SDP research team work extensively with Delaware’s data to conduct performance diagnostics—descriptive analyses on trends and patterns related to teacher effectiveness (human capital), high school completion, college-readiness, and college-going success. They then work closely with Secretary Murphy to review these data and share and discuss them with legislators, school administrators, and educators across the state. Data from the SDP analyses are already improving policy and practice.
The Human Capital Diagnostic
SDP’s human capital analyses revealed that more than 25 percent of Delaware teachers have five or fewer years of teaching experience. Moreover, first-year teachers are overwhelmingly assigned to students that are furthest behind. The analyses also demonstrated that large numbers of Delaware’s newest teachers leave the profession within four years.
Shining a light on these trends in human capital led to the passage of Delaware’s Senate Bill 51. The bill requires all teacher preparation programs to set high admission and completion requirements, provide high-quality student teaching experiences and ongoing evaluation of program participants, and prepare prospective elementary school teachers in literacy and mathematics instruction. In addition, the bill requires teacher preparation programs to track and report data on the effectiveness of their programs.
The College-Going Diagnostic
Among other things, SDP’s college-going analyses revealed that there is great variation among high schools in the percentage of students who progress from ninth grade into college. As a result, the state is examining promising practices to find pockets of success and identify how that success can be scaled across the state. The analyses also suggest that it’s critical to catch students up who are behind in middle school. According to the analyses, students who performed better in eighth grade were much more likely to graduate high school on time and enroll in college. In addition, the college-going analyses also revealed that highly qualified low-income students are more likely to “under-match” in their college choices. While 30 percent of Delaware’s ninth-graders persist into their second year of college, the percentage is lower among certain racial subgroups and among those who come from low-income families.
Shining a light on trends in college-going led the state to develop a college readiness plan to address challenge areas and identify and propagate best practices.
For example, in response to the finding that a substantial number of students identified as college-ready on the state assessment did not enroll in college, the DDOE developed the “Summer Nudge” program. Through this program, data are used to identify highly qualified students who took the SAT but did not send their scores to institutions of higher education. The state then sends targeted letters to these students encouraging them to apply to certain schools that match their academic ability. Resources on financial aid and the application process are also shared.
Since hiring data strategist Atnre Alleyne, DDOE has made vast strides in using its data to make better informed policy decisions. However, given the volume of policy and financial decisions made in education agencies, it’s hard to deny the growing need for additional analytic capacity. When state education agencies integrate data and analyses into their everyday management, they can make much better decisions to improve both student and system performance.
As Murphy points out, “Without a data-driven policy conversation it’s little more than guesswork based on a bunch of assumptions and anecdotal information that people have had from their histories.” But “if you put the data out there, you can start to make decisions that are in the best interest of kids based on that data.”