Despite being awash for decades in student test scores, nearly all superintendents feel they need more useful data to comfortably make decisions about the future of their schools, according to a new survey.
In a recent survey issued by the Data Quality Campaign and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, 98% of the 253 superintendents who responded said if they had access to better information, they’d be “more confident in their abilities to make decisions for their district.”
“I think sometimes there can be an assumption that data is only burdensome, especially at the local level because it takes work to get. But these results showed us it is useful because it’s providing value back to superintendents,” said Rachel Anderson, vice president at the Data Quality Campaign.
The survey showed that superintendents value and use the data they have to identify gaps in student performance, evaluate staff, and share information with the community.
But the data is only as good as the format in which it is presented. Sometimes what’s available from state education departments and governments may not be easy to access or interpret, Anderson said.
And the data has limitations. For example, superintendents said that they didn’t typically have a great sense of what students do after they leave the K-12 system.
Some superintendents said they would be interested in more information about what their students do after graduation, like what happens when they go to college or enter the workforce.
To get that information, states would have to connect K-12 databases with postsecondary ones, then create usable tools to navigate and analyze the data, Anderson said. She added that about 12 percent of superintendents who responded to the survey said they only have an anecdotal understanding of what happened to some students after they graduated high school.
What states can do to get useful information to district leaders
State education leaders should work more closely with superintendents to determine what data they want, and in what format, rather than making assumptions.
She encouraged district leaders to form partnerships with research organizations that can help them gather and assess data.
“That’s a useful model we’ve seen in being able to work with data in a more sophisticated way that superintendents otherwise may not have time for on their own,” she said.
Now is a good time to invest in those partnerships, she said, as districts work to help students regain ground academically post-pandemic.
Jesus Jara, the superintendent in Clark County, Nev., said data has always been a useful tool, but has become critical in assessing students’ progress and needs after virtual learning and other challenges caused by COVID-19. He believes state and federal requirements should move away from “summative, end-of-year” assessments, and allow for more frequent check-ins so adjustments can be made in real time.
Otherwise, the data from the previous academic year often comes in after the start of the next year, and isn’t reliable anymore, he said.
“If that end-of-year data is coming back in September like it does in for us in Nevada, at that point I’ve already made my decisions for the academic year,” Jara said. “We should be relying on formative and summative data that is more actionable for principals and for teachers to make instructional changes more real-time, so we can better help our children.”