With technology becoming an integral part of our classrooms, teachers are handling more and more information on our students. Luckily, there are data proponents out there who make it their livelihood to ensure that the data is accurate, useful, and available for the community.
One of the biggest national proponents is Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, Washington-based organization that exists to promote better data use within the education sector. Each year, DQC issues a report on the growing capacity of State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS, pronounced “sleds”) to provide timely, actionable information to parents, principals, and policymakers. I spoke with Chris Kingsley, DQC’s associate director for local policy who is focused particularly on making these resources available to community leaders working to improve student achievement both inside and outside of schools.
Below is a lightly edited excerpt from our conversation.
Why was the Data Quality Campaign founded? What is their goal?
The Data Quality Campaign was founded with the core belief that educators do more effective work with access to good data and the skills to use those data—and that this is as true at the classroom level, at school board meetings and in state capitols.
“Good data” is the key phrase here, and it’s important to understand that different stakeholders define that a little differently. DQC would say that, at a minimum, data need to be timely, tailored, and of high quality.
The need for more timely data is a constant theme in our conversations with teachers. It does no good, for example, to deliver educators information on the where their students need additional assistance after those students have moved on to the next grade. You might take a listen to the interview we recently conducted with Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC) in Indiana, which we recognized this year for its really smart work to use data to improve instruction. EVSC voluntarily added an additional set of assessments to their school calendar so that they could get their classroom teachers quicker feedback on where students needed more attention. And while you can imagine that it wasn’t a universally popular decision to add another assessment to the schedule, it does seem to be paying off.
By “tailored” data, we mean that different stakeholders have different informational needs – they have different questions that need answering. If you want to see a great example of this principle put into practice, take a look at how carefully the Texas Education Agency designed the StudentGPS dashboard they’re rolling out to schools across the state. Ed-Fi Alliance, which largely designed StudentGPS, sent hardcopies of different prototypes to educators across the state and asked them to literally take their red pens out and let Ed-Fi know what they needed to see and how they needed to see it. Student GPS offers differently tailored reports for classroom teachers, principals and district administrators. Good design like this comes from listening carefully to the people you intend to ultimately use the data.
Beyond compliance data
Unfortunately, a lot of data in the education sector right now is used only for compliance rather than continuous improvement—to prove that a school did what it said it would do, or what a legislature mandated that it do. Those kind of data may be necessary, but they are not sufficient. And so DQC works to build the preconditions for data uses that really do have impact: not only the technological infrastructure, but the policies to govern the security and privacy of data, strategies to more effectively communicate to parents about why collecting and using data in these ways is valuable, and training for educators at all levels to build this into their professional practice.
How do you collaborate with schools? What data do you collect?
The Data Quality Campaign doesn’t collect student data. What we do is work with states and partner organizations to make smart policy about how schools are collecting and using data. To give you one concrete example, we are currently facilitating a working group to develop guidance for states about how they publish information on the achievement of students, schools and districts through state “report cards.” One of the common frustrations we hear from the field is that right now, these data are hard to find. And, assuming you do find them, they’re ugly: often times a series of excel tables or charts that are just about impossible for a parent to make sense of. States have not traditionally made the usability of these reports a priority. That’s changing—and by raising up the great work of a few states in this area and circulating principles that other states can use to raise their game, we expect to see the whole education sector providing better resources to decision makers.
Why do educators listen to you?
We were created, essentially, by the organizations doing this kind of work at the state level, groups like the Council of Chief State School Officers, and our relevance comes from our track record of being able to provide useful guidance to the people charged with getting the work done. They have a big job to accomplish with limited resources. We do what we can to help.
How many states are involved?
The Data Quality Campaign tracks the progress of every state and the District of Columbia toward accomplishing the 10 State Actions to Ensure Effective Data Use (defined on DQC’s website). This year we are really excited that two states, Arkansas and Delaware, met all 10 Actions. As we move forward, DQC is gaining more traction by working with states to move beyond this fairly binary report (the presence or absence of a specific capacity), to differentiation in quality and understanding what really high quality feedback reports, professional development, governance policies and so forth look like.
What kinds of conversations and concerns do you discuss with policy makers?
At the moment, some of the most important conversations we are having are centered around student privacy and public trust. Legislators and state agencies are quite rightly concerned that the imperative to get better information to educators doesn’t outweigh the need to protect students and families. So we are working with policymakers in a number of states to ensure they are putting in place the necessary technical safeguards and—even more importantly—making and enforcing smart rules about who can access what information for what purposes.
Future of DQC?
What I’m excited about is the increasing attention we have been able to give to taking these new, incredible resources that states have built and putting them to work for local leaders. When you speak with mayors, and with “Collective Impact” groups working across the country, or with education funders—what you find is a tremendous thirst to know more about the impact of their investments, about “what works” for kids. We are in a better position to answer those questions than ever before and, as a consequence, to make the kinds of gains in achievement that I think the country is counting on from its schools.
For the latest, follow DQC at @EdDataCampaign and Chris Kingsley at @emersonkingsley.