ESSA and the Importance of Collecting Relevant Data

September 4, 2019

Beginning with the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, accurate collection and reporting of data has changed the landscape of education reform throughout the country. No Child Left Behind’s successor, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), builds on this foundation and expands the scope of data collected. New school quality and student success indicators (SQSS) provide valuable insights to public K-12 institutions and more robust student-specific information beyond grades facilitating their ability to create individualized improvement plans based on identified strengths and areas where extra help is needed.

As the state of Arkansas works to improve its schools, increase equity and achieve increases in student achievement, data is more vital than ever. For example, collecting and using both growth data, which levels the playing field for both low- and high-poverty schools, and achievement data, which often primarily benefits low-poverty schools, provides a platform for discussions to create substantial, long-lasting improvements for the education of Arkansas’ children.

ForwARd Arkansas believes that access to quality, integrated longitudinal data to track outcomes between pre-K, K-12, postsecondary education/training and workforce participation is essential to inform future planning and resource allocation. To that end, ForwARd Arkansas positions itself as a partner to school districts, business communities and other educational programs in order to assess our state’s current data capacities and rigorously research longitudinal questions around our three policy priorities — increasing access to high-quality pre-K, elevating employability skills as a learning outcome, and strengthening the educator pipeline. These partnerships are an initial step towards promoting quality data and rigorous research.

While data collection efforts through ESSA focus primarily on public K-12 schools, this robust data is applicable in a much broader context. For instance, we may discover links between pre-K enrollment and K-12 success that may reduce undesirable behavior post-high school graduation. Data gives us the ability to analyze such potential patterns, which could have a significant impact on the quality of life and economic prosperity for all Arkansas residents.

ForwARd serves as a champion for equity, a connector and convener for shared opportunity, and a catalyst for innovation. To support K-12 school leaders in informing their parents and community members about what and how data is used to determine school quality, as well as what data is used by school districts in their strategic planning, we have created and implemented an ESSA toolkit and accompanying flyer that also suggests practical, common-sense ways that parents and community members can become involved in their schools to further improve the school and student outcomes measured by ESSA. We hope you find it to be a helpful resource.

For more information or to find your school’s ESSA Index and Letter Grade, visit the Arkansas Department of Education’s My School Info website.

Dr. Malachi Nichols is the director of evaluation and data quality at ForwARd Arkansas