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Data is an integral part of this district’s operations, from student engagement to staff vaccinations

How using data during COVID becomes more important than ever

Data is an integral part of this district’s operations, from student engagement to staff vaccinations

For Matt Reynolds, Assessment and Data Officer for the 64,000+ students that attend Douglas County School District in Colorado, running the usual assessment numbers was obviously useless last year.

That doesn’t mean that data collection was not an essential part of district operations. Quite the contrary in fact.

In this conversation with eSchool News, Matts talks about how they are supporting student learning during this time, as well as helping educators engage students and drive instruction.

The following excerpts have been edited for clarity.

eSN: Crunching numbers has probably been a little different in 2020-2021?

MR: I never thought that I would in a million years be looking at COVID data, monitoring the number of quarantines, the number of positive tests to now, looking at the number of staff that are getting their vaccinations. It’s not necessarily the focus of our conversation here, but it just speaks to the levels of shifts that we’ve had to do in terms of our overall data needs.

eSN: So many changes…

MR: Yeah, I think there’s quite a few. And, it’s not just new data, but also a shift in how you would look and interpret the data. Engagement became a very, very large conversation last spring as we completely shifted from being in person to remote. Engagements are really difficult things for us to measure directly. It’s about taking different data sets and collecting them together to paint a picture of what we look at in terms of engagement, whether that’s the log-ins that people have, and that students have on an online environment; also the number of engagements that they have with their teachers, whether that’s through email or phone calls, the Google meetings, which at that time was a fairly new phenomenon of being able to engage.

eSN: What do you do with data sets like that?

MR: It’s part of our outreach plan, how every one of our schools can reach those students. It was shifting away from just the performance to saying, “Are we engaging kids in this new educational approach?” Moving into this year (Fall, 2021), engagement was still a conversation, but we started to get our sea legs underneath us and say, “How can we start looking at the way that students are learning in this environment?” How can we get a window into what students are doing, how they’re doing? And really assessment in and of itself became a very interesting concept because we often don’t realize how much informal data we get from the day-to-day operations with students and the value of that data. These informal assessments really have become so critical because we don’t have those large-scale datasets that we normally do to check in with students.

eSN: We’re guessing that not many people missed the usual statewide assessments?

MR: Yeah, I think Douglas County matches the nationwide conversation regarding large-scale assessment. We want to know where students are, but are we willing to sacrifice instructional time, which is so precious to us right now, to gather that information because many of those assessments do take time away from the learning?

And so that conversation has continued. It’s reached a different pitch now because the instructional time is just so valuable to us at the moment. But it really comes down to that conversation about purpose. What’s the purpose of assessment? What’s the purpose of data? I have really found that if you’re able to have a conversation with someone about the purpose and use of data, it really diffuses the conversation. It really focuses our energy just to make sure that we gather information that we’re actually using.

eSN: Are there any things you see sticking when we go “back to normal,” whatever that is?

MR: I really think the light is at the end of the tunnel with vaccinations coming out and with community data that we have, we can see the spread is minimizing. And with our district, we are really committed to professional learning communities. And the star at the heart of the professional learning communities is utilizing data to make informed decisions about instruction—knowing what you want students to know, to be able to do, and then gathering the information to make decisions beyond that point.

And we are really going to try to take as much advantage of this as we can, because now that we’ve stripped back all of the ancillary things that we’ve been doing down to just the core of what we want students to know and be able to do and build upon that next year. It’s just an opportunity for us to reinvigorate the conversation, refocus the conversation, and use some of the things that we’ve learned in the last year to help grow kids. It’s really exciting.

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