As readers know, CPE is all about the importance of using data and research to craft effective school policy and practice. We also encourage everyone who has an interest in public schools to look at data when gauging their quality. Unfortunately, getting that data isn’t always as straightforward as it could be. Even when found, it’s often presented in long tables, complicated graphs and confusing formats that obscure rather than shed light on school performance.
The Data Quality Campaign sought to address the all-too-common lack of quality in the way states report school data to the public. DQC recently convened a task force of national education experts and advocates — an effort we were proud to be part of — to identify best practices in state reporting systems. The results of our meetings are contained in the publication, Empowering Parents and Communities through Quality Public Reporting, released today.
The recommendations are intended for state policymakers to inform their design of state data systems. These systems should feature the following characteristics:
- First, the data is trustworthy. There’s obviously little value in data that is wrong or out-of-date so every effort must be made to ensure accuracy. In addition, an essential part of gaining the public’s trust in data systems is protecting student privacy. Indeed, parental concerns about who has access to their child’s data and how it is used have grown a lot over the last year. Both states and districts have a role in putting fail-safe limits on access to individual students’ data. (To learn more about how, NSBA’s general counsel’s office produced this excellent guide on assuring student data privacy and CPE/DQC developed this data privacy fact sheet for school boards.)
- Good systems are also focused on meeting people’s information needs. Many state systems were developed with a view toward compliance with federal and state regulations. If this information was also useful to educators, administrators, policymakers, parents and press, it was merely by happenstance, not design. A good data system, however, is designed with the consumer in mind, going beyond compliance to provide a real service to education stakeholders.
- State reporting is timely and ongoing. The data collection and vetting process can often delay public reporting for as long as two years. This doesn’t help teachers or parents who need to respond to students’ needs in real time, not long after the fact. The same is true for administrators and school boards who need current data to inform their decisions.
- Finally, in a good system, data is easy to find, access and understand. Some state report cards are buried in the department of education website. Many others are hard to navigate or present the data in ways that are difficult to interpret. The DQC report features state-of-the-art data systems from Illinois, Ohio and others that demonstrate the possibilities in presenting data that is easy for non-statisticians to locate, understand and, ultimately, use effectively.
While the Empowering Parents report is intended for state policymakers, the accompanying fact sheets are written specifically for parents, administrators and school boards and they discuss how these different stakeholders can use data and be strong advocates for better data systems. – Patte Barth