Opinion

Kowalski: States Will Never Meet ESSA Goals Without Data Empowering Teachers & Parents to Help Students

By Paige Kowalski | July 24, 2017

It’s clear from the plans being submitted in response to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that many states are seeking to set big goals for their students. The intention to see significant increases in the performance of English language learners is commendable, and the long-term goal that significant portions of citizens have postsecondary degrees and credentials is game-changing.

But in too many states, teachers and parents lack a necessary resource to help their students meet those goals: data.

First, I should give credit where it is due. States have invested in data infrastructure and collection and are clearly using that data to inform ESSA plans. Like never before, states are demonstrating how they’re using their data systems to inform goal setting, develop richer indicators of student learning, understand the impact of decisions on n-sizes — the number of students in defined subgroups — and ensure equity for all students. These are important signals that states have moved beyond using data for just accountability and are finally using it to fuel improvement.

Even as states are focused on designing or revamping accountability systems, some are also considering how they can empower educators, communities, and families with the data they need to have the fullest picture of student and school success. We’re seeing this pay off — just 18 percent of teachers say they believe data are used to punish teachers and schools.

Who would’ve imagined just a few years ago we’d get to a number this low?

But as much as I would like to pop the champagne, kick back, and celebrate state efforts, the work ahead is even harder than the progress made. The Data Quality Campaign’s latest report, “Time to Act 2017: Put Data in the Hands of People,” reveals how much more work must be done to make sure people have the data that they need — and deserve.

For example, we found only 38 percent of public school parents strongly agree that they have easy access to all the information they need to make sure their child gets a great education. Sixty-seven percent of teachers are not fully satisfied with the effectiveness of the data and tools they have access to on a regular basis. Given the amount of information available about student performance — including assessments, grades, and attendance — why would we settle for anything less than 100 percent?

States can and must do better, and they will have to if they intend to realize the promise of the goals laid out in their ESSA plans. The good news is that states don’t have to go it alone, and while no state has accomplished everything necessary for all stakeholders to have timely, contextual access to education data, there are leaders to learn from. Georgia empowers every teacher and parent with easy access to student data and resources to support learning through an online portal. In Tennessee, state leaders used their ESSA plan to discuss the Volunteer State’s commitment to making sure teachers have the data they need. In New Mexico’s plan, getting teachers the skills and coaching to use data is a central focus. These commitments to data access and use — not only for educators, but also for families — are necessary to help states meet their ambitious goals for students.

We can’t afford to miss this moment. The Every Student Succeeds Act is providing a chance for states to lay out and act on a clear vision for education and lifelong success. We have seen that the transformation of the role of data in education from a tool for compliance and accountability into one that informs conversations and inspires action has begun. In order for states to realize their visions, we cannot, must not stop the momentum. The goals for students across the country are too important, and they will not be realized without data.

Submit a Letter to the Editor