Schools should use data collected in SY 2019-20 to identify progress

A Q&A with the president and CEO of the Data Quality Campaign on the importance of using data that has already been collected to measure and improve student achievement
By: | October 22, 2020
Getty Images: Tetra ImagesGetty Images: Tetra Images

In May 29 Letter to State EDFacts Coordinators, U.S. Education Department officials said statewide data on SY 2019-20 Elementary and Secondary Education Act assessments and accountability systems would not be collected by the department due to waivers granted in response to COVID-19.

While this statewide Elementary and Secondary Education Act accountability data may be unavailable, “school leaders and the public need to know how students are progressing academically during this time,” says Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, president and CEO of the Data Quality Campaign. “This is less about accountability and more about making sure that districts and states administer statewide annual assessments this coming year.”

Ellwanger recently discussed the importance of using the data that has already been collected to measure and improve student achievement, as well as making that information publicly available to families and communities.

Q: Over the longer term, how will this missing year of accountability data affect states and districts?

A: Without assessments, leaders cannot compare schools to one another to understand who is serving students best during this time. Information from assessments—especially when coupled with student academic growth data—will give leaders valuable information on where progress is happening and quite literally allow them to call up the leaders seeing the most progress in their schools to learn about best practices. States should be measuring growth in 2021 and how they can make it happen in the current climate.

Q: What should states and districts, operating virtually and/or in person, do to get a solid baseline of student achievement?

A: The definition of solid baseline is changing, but it hinges on assessments. A DQC poll found 77% of parents want them this year, and DQC recently joined a group of organizations asking ED not to grant assessment waivers again this year. When schools know where students are academically, they can target supports appropriately. Leaders need to understand which students need what supports and be able to marshal resources in order to ensure those students are catching up and getting back on track to succeed.

In addition to assessment data, leaders need systems in place for things like attendance, engagement and feedback. Leaders should know who has internet access and devices. They also should not be waiting until the spring to understand where students are academically. There are opportunities for diagnostics so that schools understand where students are at the beginning of the year and where students need the most support.

Q: What best practices does DQC recommend, and what does should be done moving forward to address this missing year of data?

A: Schools lost a year of assessment data, but leaders have almost a full year of data that they collected up until March 2020. Schools should be using the data that they have already collected.

Schools should be doing everything they can to make as much information as possible public so that families and communities can understand where students were and where they are not. Report cards are one piece of that, but so are things like parent portals, which give families up-to-date information on their students. As parents continue to be “teachers,” they need information more than ever.

Charles Hendrix covers education funding and other issues for, a DA sister publication.