Data and Policy Symposium Recap

Throughout my career in education, I have seen the important role data plays in informing statewide educational policy. I have also seen firsthand how access to quality data can drive strategy and decision making, as well as improve teaching and learning outcomes at every level, including classrooms, where it can really make a difference for students.


Last month, ForwARd Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute for Chief Data Officers partnered to convene a diverse group of more than 100 people at our inaugural Data & Policy Symposium, where we discussed the importance of implementing a longitudinal data system to track educational outcomes throughout our state.

Topics of discussion included the importance of data as a determinant of policy, how data collaboratives are advancing in other states and how we might adopt similar initiatives in Arkansas.

The symposium’s keynote speaker, John Easton, a former director at the U.S. Department of Education and a national thought leader on this issue, inspired us with stories of how these insights from another city’s longitudinal data systems has benefited Chicago Public Schools and students. His research on the predictive power of 9th grade GPA as an indicator of future success was particularly insightful – since the implementation of tracking these GPAs, a culture shift occurred. The educators went from looking annually at a single test on two subjects to looking at an overall measure that considers multiple variables such as attendance, discipline, weekly exams, presentations, projects and assignments. Since then, student achievement has been improving across the board.  Student GPAs have improved regardless of race, income level, or neighborhood, just by communicating to educators in the system that these measures mattered. These are amazing results, which Arkansas can certainly learn from.

By the end of the Symposium, it was clear that there is a robust appetite for sharing data in Arkansas. There is also an understanding that development and implementation of a longitudinal data system is critically important to our ability to tracking the effectiveness of policies in our state.

At ForwARd, we are working to create a collaborative environment that fosters world-class academic research capabilities and capacity for data-sharing within state government. We believe this Symposium has helped lay the groundwork for and ForwARd strongly supports the expedited establishment of a longitudinal data system in the state of Arkansas.

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