Standing Room Only

The above picture gives you an indication of how full the room was for our panel, “What Data Parents Want: Using a Data Dashboard in Missouri.” People told us they stood in the hallway listening in.

Researchers don’t always draw this large a crowd at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Summer Conference in Washington, DC. Although our panel included some names people may know, such as Jeff Falter (Missouri Department Elementary and Secondary Education), Ellen Mandinach and Ryan Miskell (WestEd), Edith Gummer and myself (Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation).

Rather, the interest underscored the rising importance of education data to communicate effectively to parents and other audiences. We know there are incentives for education staff and agencies to pay attention, such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which states that school districts need to reserve one percent of Title I allocations for this purpose.

However, I believe the interest was driven by an intense need for us all to understand what information parents seek to make educational decisions and how they get it.

The research being completed by Dr. Mandinach and Dr. Miskell involves going directly to parents to ask what education data they need and want as well as how it might be best displayed for them. Preliminary results from 21 focus groups with 118 people statewide show parents interested in a slew of topics ranging from school culture to staffing. Interestingly, a good deal of these topics tended to be “soft” data or items that aren’t easily categorized and reported.

Presently, we simply don’t know enough about what sorts of decisions parents are considering, what education data they are using to make those decisions and where and how are they getting this information. Given what we don’t know, we surmise that the way parents currently find education information may carry some inefficiencies.

We think data tools and dashboards might be able help connect parents and families to important information if they are easily accessible, understandable and carry salient data. This is one of the things we tried to accomplish with EdWise, the data visualization tool that showcases Missouri’s aggregate education data.

As results of Drs. Mandinach and Miskell’s research are published in late 2016 and early 2017, we look forward to sharing more in depth information about parents and their data needs and preferences.

And, we’ll book a larger room when we do present the new results. 

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christopher laubenthal

Christopher Laubenthal is a program officer in Education for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where he works to explore topics around data, education, and human capital through grants and programs.