Guest Blog: Balancing Data Transparency and Reporting with Burden and Redundancy

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AASA President David Pennington (Ponco City, OK) penned this blog post, which originally appeared in The Flashlight, the Data Quality Campaign blog.

As superintendent of Ponca City Schools in Oklahoma, enrolling 5,300 students at a 68 percent eligibility rate for free and reduced-price lunch, I have firsthand experience in the collection, reporting, and analysis of countless data each school year. More than a decade after NCLB paved a wide road for expanded data collection and transparency, education stakeholders are at a crossroads, faced with answering questions that are both complementary and contradictory: What is collected, why, and how? Who has access to data, when, and for what purposes? How do we ensure data quality and integrity? How do we protect student privacy? And how do we answer all of these questions in a constantly evolving, increasingly digital school and learning environment?

AASA has collaborated with the team at the Data Quality Campaign for over seven years, partnering on white papers and in roundtable discussions, and looking to advance the broader conversation about the role of data in education.

The public reporting of data emerges as a critical point. Done incorrectly or incompletely (e.g., a rushed state report card), data can be misused or misinterpreted. Used properly, that same state (or district) report card becomes an empowering tool that can inform a myriad of other conversations, covering topics from transparency and accountability to student learning and areas to improve in instruction.

In my work at Ponca City, access to high-quality data is critical to decisionmaking. Almost all of the information we use in day-to-day decisions—as well as to inform long-range or mission-focused decisions—is collected and stored locally. Oklahoma’s state education agency is required by the federal government to make certain information about public schools and the students they serve available to the public. This includes information about accountability, student achievement, and teacher quality, data that are not personally identifiable. This is information that becomes public information, and it is of vital importance that the data I (as a superintendent) have access to are high-quality; useful; trustworthy; and easy to find, understand, and communicate. This is a lot to ask of a data set, but it is the right set of questions. It will—and should—affect the data we collect, how we store and access them, and most importantly how we are able to use them to inform decisions that best support student learning.

Leading a school district has helped crystallize the importance of publicly reported data being timely, actionable, and comprehensible; it is one of the most effective ways to give stakeholders (including superintendents like me, along with educators, policymakers, parents, and community members) access to the data, which in turn is the most efficient way to promote transparency and strengthen accountability.

The reality is that the full potential of data remains drastically under-utilized. There is a critical conversation to be had around what we are collecting and why. I can attest to the fact that right now, the bulk of the public reporting going on in Oklahoma—and I’d venture to guess other states—is geared more toward compliance with federal, state, and local law than being customized to most effectively inform district data needs and decisionmaking. This disconnect significantly compromises the ability to fully utilize data and support improvements in teaching and learning.

As we gear up for a new Congress, I welcome the chance to address the importance of appropriate data collection and reporting. I know that I—along with AASA—will be at the table for many conversations, from funding for data systems and the role of accountability to expanded data collection and student privacy. Current K–12 federal policy includes data disaggregation and the ability to shine a light on strengths and weaknesses within a system. This deliberate focus empowers an expanded tool for serious conversations about improving student learning and school performance, and we are optimistic that federal policy—if we properly answer the questions addressed in my opening paragraphs—will remain just as empowering.

For more, see DQC’s full suite of public reporting materials, including the full primer; infographic summary; the federal spotlight; and resources for parents, administrators, and local school board members.


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