By Lisa Berdie
Data-driven decision-making. It’s a term bandied about by many of us in education. Data should—and often does—inform policy. For example, data from the task force exploring the amount of instructional time spent on testing was instrumental at the state house last year with the passage of HB 15-1323. At the district level, Denver’s Facility Allocation Policy is a great example of an attempt to formalize data-driven decision-making.
For data to truly drive policy, to drive advocacy, to drive action, the data must be accessible. CDE is really leaps and bounds ahead of other states in providing data to the public. There’s the litany of spreadsheets: from enrollment statistics to mill levies and overrides to personnel turnover to assessment results. There’s Data Lab: an invaluable tool for looking at CSAP/TCAP results by schools and districts, and by student subgroups. And there’s SchoolView: a friendly and visual presentation of much of the available information.
And yet, there are some serious limitations. For example, Data Lab doesn’t include data from many schools that have been closed. That makes it hard to compare how schools are doing today relative to schools that have served that community in the past. Another example, there is no way to query multiple years worth of really important, rich data from CDE in a Data Lab-like tool (like enrollment, or graduation rate, or discipline data, or average teacher salaries). As someone who spends (some may argue an embarrassingly large amount of) time working with CDE spreadsheets, I make an impassioned plea that we invest in the systems that would make this data even more easily accessible and usable.
I’ve heard that Santa is making his list and checking it twice, so here is my data-driven wish list this holiday season:
1. An expansion of Data Lab: a tool to query longitudinal data on enrollment and demographics, graduation and dropout rates, and other assessment results including ACT and ACCESS. This also needs to include schools that have been closed, so as to better understand how structural changes are impacting students.
2. Better connections between K-12 data and higher education and workforce data: we need a better understanding of how well our system is doing at graduating students who are college and career ready—and of the decisions students are making after they exit the K-12 system.
3. Non-core subject information: we know education is much broader than reading and math, but there’s almost no information on how students are spending time on physical education and arts.
4. Staffing information: if we’re serious about making teaching an attractive and sustainable career, we need to get serious about understanding what is asked of teachers, and how resources are allocated to teachers.
5. Accessible district-level data: districts collect vast amounts of data on programming in schools, on staff satisfaction, on resource allocation, on school enrollment and choice. This data—and the lessons learned from the data– should be better accessible by the public to inform conversations with parents and community members, and decision-makers in other geographies.
6. A greater focus on student subgroups*: Our data collection and reporting system is only helpful if we can understand nuance in the numbers. Critical information gets lost in averages, and we need more information about how different groups of students– particularly low-income students, students of color, English language-learners, students with IEPs– are doing across a number of metrics. For example, last year’s public release of school-level CMAS science and social studies results are not disaggregated by subgroup, which makes it really difficult to understand which schools and districts are closing opportunity gaps.
I know this is expensive. Gathering data is expensive. Validating data is expensive. Maintaining data is expensive. Making data accessible is expensive. Protecting student level data is expensive. It takes a lot of people. It takes systems. And there are real tradeoffs that the state and district superintendents would have to make to invest in these types of systems. But making the investment is critical if we want our teachers, our principals, our administrators, and our legislators making decisions that are shown to help kids.
There are too many policies and initiatives (most) that are pushed into schools that are never properly evaluated, and often times because there was never any thought to understanding what data is required to know whether it is working or needs to be modified. We shouldn’t be flying in the dark here. If we expect to be informed taxpayers, if we expect the thousands of board members across the state to make informed decisions, if we expect smart legislation passed at the state house, this must be a priority.
* Note: We acknowledge the importance of data privacy and understand that the availability of more data goes hand in hand with ensuring that sensitive student information is kept safe. We believe that data privacy can be respected while at the same time allowing policy makers, advocacy organizations, researchers, and parents, access to important, nuanced data.