Starting Right: Data and Stakeholder Engagement

As we shift from pandemic response to recovery, education leaders face a time of great opportunity and great risk. With millions of dollars in new funding on the table and 18 months of new teaching and learning experiences, school and district leaders have the opportunity to reshape how teaching and learning happen in their communities to better meet the needs of students who have been underserved in our schools for too long. At the same time, the needs of students, families, and educators are at all-time highs, as are their stress levels. This means that education leaders will need to set a limited number of priorities and institute careful spending plans to drive real, tangible change.

To maximize the likelihood of success, these plans must start with authentic, meaningful stakeholder engagement, as well as a deep look at other school and district data.

Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement

“District and school leaders should seize this opportunity to engage in meaningful collaboration and communication with families, educators and community partners”

Too often, decisions about improvement strategies and resource allocations are made behind closed doors, without any input from the people most affected by them: students and their families, and sometimes even teachers and school administrators. Families of historically underserved students are especially likely to be left out of the decision-making process. Upending these patterns has never been more imperative than it is today, following 18 months of education disruptions that have blurred the lines between school and home more than ever before.

District and school leaders should seize this opportunity to engage in meaningful collaboration and communication with families, educators and community partners and take the following steps:

  • Target outreach to historically underserved families and communities. District leaders should partner with community-based organizations that work with historically underserved students and their families to facilitate focus groups, forums, site councils, and working groups. Because these organizations have already established a level of trust with their constituents, they may be better positioned to gather community input.
  • Conduct focus groups with teachers and other educators, such as guidance counselors and school social workers. Buy-in from teachers and other education professionals will be key to successful implementation of any initiative. District and school leaders should consult directly with educators to understand tradeoffs involved in implementing new programs or practices, and the support staff will need to implement any changes successfully.
  • Remove as many barriers to participation as possible. District leaders should hold meetings both virtually and in person, scheduling them at a variety of times, including outside traditional work hours; providing food and child care services; offering stipends and transportation reimbursement; and making sure all materials are translated into the most common languages spoken in the district and that qualified interpreters are available.
  • Engage early and often. District leaders should engage with stakeholders at least twice: in the beginning of the planning process, to hear and understand their concerns; and toward the end, when the plan is close to final. District leaders should regularly update stakeholders on plan implementation, provide data on student progress and/or use of funds, and seek feedback on potential modifications.
  • Provide families and community stakeholders with the information they need to provide input on key district decisions. This should include key data on student outcomes and access to learning opportunities in each school and across the district, as well as the key considerations that went into a particular decision – e.g., the advantages and disadvantages of using a certain curriculum, or the pros and cons of various supports for students who are struggling academically

Starting with Data

Starting the planning process with a deep look at school and district data will help education leaders identify key priorities for the coming months. In examining data, education leaders should ensure that all student-level data is disaggregated by student group, including by student race and ethnicity, income status, English learner status, disability status, and living situation (e.g., whether students are in foster care or experiencing homelessness).

At a minimum, district and school leaders should consider the following:

Student Demographics

  • Student demographics, including enrollment by race and ethnicity, income status, English learner status, disability status, and living situation (e.g., whether students are in foster care or experiencing homelessness).

Student Engagement

  • Learning formats for the majority of the 2020-2021 school year, disaggregated by student group (including student participation in remote learning centers or pods)
  • Percentage of students missing at least 10% of school days, disaggregated by student group
  • Percentage of students missing more than 50% of school days, disaggregated by student group
  • Data on attempts to re-engage students (type and frequency of outreach, level of success)

Student Support and Access to Learning Opportunities

  • Services currently offered at each school to support students academically and socially and emotionally (e.g., summer learning, mental health services, tutoring)
  • Participation in services currently offered, disaggregated by student group
  • Curricula currently used for each core subject and CURATE ratings for those curricula (where applicable)
  • Availability of rigorous coursework, including:
    • Eighth grade algebra
    • Each category of Advanced Courses, as designated under the Massachusetts school and district accountability system
    • Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes, by subject
    • Early college programs
  • Availability of arts (including visual, music, etc.) and other elective courses

Student Outcomes and Well-Being

  • Results of diagnostic assessments, disaggregated by student group
  • Student grades, including grade-point averages and percentages of students earning at least one D or F grade, disaggregated by student group
  • Preliminary 2021 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) results, disaggregated by student group
  • Dropout and graduation rates, by student group
  • Results of any measures of students’ social-emotional well-being, including student surveys or teacher assessments
  • Results of any student and family surveys, disaggregated by student group
  • Participation in and successful completion of rigorous coursework, disaggregated by student group
  • Participation in arts and other elective courses, disaggregated by student group

Educator Demographics and Experience

  • Teacher and educator demographics, by race and ethnicity
  • Results of educator surveys, by educator race and ethnicity
  • Teacher and educator attrition rates (retirements and resignations, respectively), by educator race and ethnicity
  • Current teacher and counselor student loads (i.e., total number of students a teacher or counselor is responsible for)
  • Classroom and other vacancies

Schools and districts might also consider using needs assessment templates and tools designed for this moment in time, such as the School Re-Centering Readiness Assessment or the Tennessee Department of Education’s ESSER Needs Assessment.

Questions to Ask as an Advocate:

  1. If I want to provide input on how this money should be used, whom should I contact?
  2. How will the district or school engage a diverse set of students, families, educators and community-based organizations in decisions about how to best use federal recovery funding?
  3. How will district and school leaders ensure that they hear from students and families who do not speak English?
  4. When and how will school and district leaders share what they heard from the students, families, educators and community-based organizations?
  5. What data did the district examine? What does that data show?
  6. Based on the data the district examined, what are the top four or five priorities the district or school needs to focus on most as students return to in-person learning?