Education

Student Data Collection Mired in Controversy

Over the past decade as a special education teacher, Dr. Dawn Welters has often had to collect data about her students and chart a path for their academic success using quantitative information passed on from previous instructors.

Even with pre-COVID-19 data, Welters said continuing that tradition has proven difficult because of what she described as the perilous conditions of virtual learning and time constraints imposed upon her and her colleagues.

“We have to collect data and sometimes [administrators] give us a specific time window to do some of those things and it’s not enough for me and my students,” said Welters, who works with six deaf and hard-of-hearing elementary students.

“It’s been overwhelming collecting data this year,” she added. “From what I’m seeing, there’s been some improvement, but not what’s expected during the school year. We should be seeing more of an improvement with students by this time but they’re not [yet] up to their full potential.”

Welters’ concerns come amid the release of a report from the Office of the D.C. Auditor (ODCA) that details the lack of District-wide, longitudinal data about District students, what officials deemed more than necessary during a pandemic where students have experienced learning loss.

On March 10, ODCA officials contended that the District hasn’t created the means to determine what each student learns each year, nor do they have any idea about student-teacher linkages. Without such data, OSSE would be unable to predict which students are the most likely to repeat a grade in high school.

According to officials, the lack of data has also left them in the dark about the progress of each public and public charter school graduate in postsecondary studies and workforce development.

Last month, a survey conducted by the DC State Board of Education found that less than one-third of teachers have been able to cover the same amount of content in the virtual learning space as would have been the case under normal circumstances. Teachers also reported lower levels of student engagement in Wards 7 and 8.

D.C. Councilmembers Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Robert White (D-At large), both of whom led efforts for the data collection revamp with the introduction of legislation nearly three years ago, said such an undertaking would help students falling further behind during the pandemic.

Erin Roth, ODCA’s director of education research, shared their sentiments.

“The District needs data to plan supports and interventions, and they need it going back as many grades as possible,” Roth said.

“Our current data collections have been significantly disrupted, but other states are relying on coursework, survey data, and other predictive tools to ensure students are staying on track. This needs to be used in D.C. We can invest in it right away to build it.”

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