From Inputs to Outputs – It’s About time
Given my general flailing efforts at providing regular content for this blog, our wonderful staff is stepping up to the plate (it is October). This post is courtesy of our Senior Policy Analyst – Heather Barondess.
As we noted in an earlier post, we sponsored a conference on data last week in partnership with Children Now, Silicon Valley Education Foundation, and the Silver Giving Foundation. This was the first meeting about data that we held with a group of partners (known as the Information Alliance for Education). And yet, this conference was notably different than others of its kind: it signaled a shift in the way we in California think about education data, from “inputs” to “outputs,” using data as a tool to close achievement gaps.
Since 1997 or so, the discussion about longitudinal education data in California has been focused exclusively on “inputs”—developing and implementing the infrastructure of the data systems, ensuring the collection and management of quality data. And while there is clearly a tremendous amount of work to do on that front, as anyone familiar with the disaster we call CALPADS implementation knows well, the inputs are merely a means to an end. The end, of course, is the “outputs”—timely, meaningful, actionable data that educators can use to inform their practice and that and policymakers can use to make decisions about California’s public education system. Perhaps part of the reason that CALPADS development and implementation has been such a struggle is that the system is utterly disconnected from the people who want and need to use it to improve student achievement.
At our event last week, we highlighted educators from around the state who need and want to use data to inform their practice, and in the absence of a state system, built their own. School districts like Long Beach, San Jose, Fresno and Desert Sands, charters like Aspire and CCSA, and organizations like Cal-PASS and Teach for America showcased systems they each designed and built so that timely, meaningful, actionable data could be accessed by their educators. They are each doing some truly amazing work. But many of the over 250 attendees at the conference walked away from these presentations with similar conclusions: Why is everyone doing this on their own? In times of limited resources, isn’t this duplication of effort inefficient and wasteful? What about the school districts that can’t afford to do this? There must be a better way!
Yes, there is a better way. Our lunchtime presentation demonstrated one example—the Texas Student Data System. As was mentioned in a previous post, Texas is building a system that does everything our state should be doing. The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation have partnered with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to build out the state’s decades-old data warehouse and create a system that provides educators with timely, meaningful, actionable data to improve student performance, all while easing the burden of data collection on school districts. And they are building the Texas Student Data System with “outputs” and the end-user in mind. Instead of taking a top-down, compliance-oriented approach to a statewide data system as California has done, Texas completed an extensive stakeholder engagement process so the system is perfectly connected to the people who want and need to use it to improve student outcomes.
There is still time for California to change its approach to longitudinal education data. In fact, this may be the perfect time, as Governor Schwarzenegger’s recent line-item veto of funding for the development of CALPADS threatens the completion of the project. Policymakers, advocates, educators, researchers and community members will be calling for the restoration of this funding as soon as the state legislature reconvenes, but with a renewed call to action. Yes, we absolutely need to restore funding on the inputs-side of CALPADS, because the system is a means to an end. But if the discussions had at our conference last week is any indication, an output-driven rationale may be what gets the funding needed to ultimately get data into the hands of those responsible for our students’ learning all across California.
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