Using Data to Understand and Build in Our Current COVID-19 Reality

June 29, 2020
Dr. Malachi Nichols, Director of Evaluation and Data Quality

Historically, pandemics are non-discriminatory, reaching across both racial and economic lines. But COVID-19 is not following suit and is dramatically highlighting the disparities and inequities within our country. There is a growing body of data and research suggesting the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on minority and low-income communities. Unfortunate, yes, but it is only with the presence of data and timely analysis that we can become aware and understand these realities. So, what is the current reality within our state’s education system?

Using the COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index (CCVI) developed by the Surgo Foundation, we analyzed the relationship between community vulnerability and academic achievement within our state.

Shown in the graph below, the higher a community’s potential vulnerability to COVID-19, the lower the district’s academic achievement. This demonstrates the connection between the frailty of a community’s susceptibility to a public health crisis and the well-being of its schools. Many factors that lead to health vulnerability, such as community minority composition and parental educational attainment, also have a strong association with school-related factors. Access to such data that can provide these kinds of insights allows us to build a platform to respond to the current crisis now and better prepare for such events in the future. In other words, when used most powerfully and effectively, data is designed to inform a response, not just define a situation.

As we traverse through the pandemic, data and analysis will continue to illustrate our current status. But beyond showing the present condition, it provides our schools and communities with a chance to alter their data-derived path. For instance, towns such as Crossett, one of our ForwARd Communities, have about 25 percent of students living in households without adequate technology or internet, compared to about 17 percent of student households in suburban districts.

Instead of being defined by data, Crossett leveraged their community strength and ordered 300 Chromebooks for students to engage in alternative methods of instruction (AMI) and provided over 20,000 student meals. The agility of Crossett to meet their district’s needs is a testament to the power of using data to inform and not define.

During these unpredictable times, the use of data in making informed decisions is imperative to building within the current reality. Intertwining quality data with relevant analysis can and will create reliable, appropriate and digestible insights for our state and communities moving forward.

If you are interested in utilizing data to make informed decisions as you look for innovative and equitable solutions that will ultimately strengthen Arkansas’ educational system post-COVID-19, check out the resources below:

  1. My School Info – Search, Compare, Inform Public Schools across Arkansas
  2. Surgo Foundation – Bringing Greater Precision to the COVID-19 Response
  3. BCT Partners – COVID-19 Urgent Service Provider
  4. Urban Institute – Mapping Student Needs During COVID-19

ForwARd will continue to share updates, as well as highlight opportunities for the development and broad implementation of innovative and equitable solutions that will ultimately strengthen Arkansas’ educational system post-COVID-19.