2019 Data and Policy Symposium Recap

October 24, 2019

Last month, ForwARd Arkansas gathered a diverse group of more than 100 people from higher education, the business community, policymakers, government agencies, local school districts and more at our second annual Data & Policy Symposium.

This group tackled a number of issues throughout the half-day session – all related to how data can be used to inform both the development of and investment in policies and programs to address inequities and improve educational outcomes, as well as how to leverage data in a way that ensures all Arkansas youth are set up to succeed in school and beyond.

Governor Hutchinson’s transformational legislation that will help align the existing K-12 data system at the ADE with Pre-K, Career Education and Higher Education data was signed into law earlier this year and we look forward to being able to access data about this important investment Arkansas has made in our youngest students. However, Symposium panelists and participants agreed that we should start using available data to guide important decisions for the benefit of students now.

I’ll use a robust conversation we had related to Pre-K as an example. Using data made available to us from our ForwARd communities, we recently released a series of Pre-K reports that were shared with Symposium participants. One significant finding that was flagged across the relevant reports is need for teachers to receive additional professional development on the best ways to work with students who have experienced or are currently experiencing trauma, including Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that can adversely affect their ability to succeed in school. This is a real need – according to the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health, 55.9 percent of children (0-17 years) in Arkansas have experiences at least one ACE compared to 46.3 percent nationally. At the Symposium, we considered how data can help us identify, implement and assess potential solutions and next steps to systemically help schools respond to this challenge.

Convening around important issues and building a bridge for collaboration across sectors is at the heart of what ForwARd Arkansas does – and this work would not be as impactful without data, guiding the work we do and measuring the impact we have.

ForwARd continues to call for a statewide cradle-to-career longitudinal data system. It is vitally important and has great potential to power consistent and credible research that can form the basis of sound policy and allow us to assess progress towards desired goals. We know that access to quality, integrated data that extends from Pre-K through postsecondary education/training and workforce participation still does not exist in Arkansas at a granular level as it does in other states. While we continue to support the vision of the state’s Department of Transformation and Shared Services in this work, we also recognize the challenges related to privacy and security to get us there.

I look forward to watching this work continue to unfold.

Susan Harriman is the executive director of ForwARd Arkansas.