Data Innovators Paige Kowalski of the Data Quality Campaign

Published on October 20th, 2014 | by Travis Korte

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5 Q’s for Education Data Expert Paige Kowalski

The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Paige Kowalski, the Director of State Policy and Advocacy at the Data Quality Campaign, an advocacy organization that seeks to advance student achievement nationwide by improving data quality and access within states and districts. Kowalski discussed the “four T’s” that pose barriers to improved data quality and how states and districts can overcome some of these barriers.

Travis Korte: First, can you introduce the Data Quality Campaign?

Paige Kowalski: The Data Quality Campaign is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization, and we support effective data use at all levels of education. We do that by working with state policymakers to help them think through the policies and practices they might put in place that promote data use and support teachers and parents and the public in accessing and using high quality information to support student achievement. I’m the director of our state policy and advocacy team. In addition to supporting and informing state policymakers, we also think through the emerging policy areas, including teacher effectiveness, college readiness, etc. We also have a 50 state survey where we survey the governors’ offices of each state every year and release that information.

TK: How can states promote effective data use?

PK: One of the most important things they can do is make sure stakeholders have access to a rich, robust set of information about students. By that we mean an educator, a teacher, or a parent might traditionally just have access to a state test score. They have “snapshot” information about how a student is performing at a moment in time. States can help link that data longitudinally so educators have a better picture of how a student is performing over time. When you link that information to higher education or workforce information it starts to inform school systems as far as outcomes.

TK: What are some of the challenges associated with schools and districts linking more data, and how can states overcome these barriers?

PK: We call the barriers the “four T’s”: time, turf, trust, and technology. Time: it just comes down to resources. A lot of this depends on both the time in the day for an educator to access and use information, but also policymakers’ and districts’ resources they’re willing to spend on this. Trust: information is power. Everyone believes having data is a great thing, but traditionally speaking if you have the information you hold a lot more power than those who don’t have it. That’s why we seek to get information into the hands of people who really need it. Trust is important when you’re talking about sharing that data between systems. Turf: you hear a lot of political turf conversations between K-12 and higher education people, between state and federal jurisdictions. Technology: it’s not the biggest issue but there are still technical issues associated with breaking down the silos that separate data.

TK: Let’s focus on on of the four T’s. How can educators build trust?

PK: The biggest way to build trust is being more transparent about what we’re doing in education with data. Why are we collecting information, what are we collecting, who has access to it, who are we sharing it with and why, what is the purpose of all this? That needs to be extremely transparent and understandable to parents and the public or else they simply won’t provide it. Another key issue besides transparency is providing a service back. So I give sensitive personal information to my back because I like to be able to go anywhere in the world and stick a card in the wall and get cash out. There’s a lot of trust implied there, but it’s worth it to me. Parents are starting to question the value of providing this information, and districts and states have a big role to play in making sure parents and teachers see the value of this information and they’re getting return on this trust.

TK: What are some of the data-driven applications districts and states can point to as directly benefitting students and parents?

PK: We’ve definitely seen districts and states build early warning systems to help more kids graduate on time, helping parents and teachers understand sooner rather than later if a child is off track and what interventions can help them get back on track. Also growth measures: we’re focusing on student growth particularly in accountability systems and starting to shine a light on some schools that may not have high achievement but have high student growth, which means there’s something good happening at that school. Another one is high school feedback reports (which a state can do but a district can’t), when you link K-12 and higher education information to see if kids are enrolling and succeeding in postsecondary environments. You can look at a high school or district and their postsecondary success rates and it gives you a richer picture of the system overall. Parents and educators are finding real value in these systems. As these conversations and concerns come up around privacy, they start to see the service and the benefit of providing that information.

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About the Author

Travis Korte is a research analyst at the Center for Data Innovation specializing in data science applications and open data. He has a background in journalism, computer science and statistics. Prior to joining the Center for Data Innovation, he launched the Science vertical of The Huffington Post and served as its Associate Editor, covering a wide range of science and technology topics. He has worked on data science projects with HuffPost and other organizations. Before this, he graduated with highest honors from the University of California, Berkeley, having studied critical theory and completed coursework in computer science and economics. His research interests are in computational social science and using data to engage with complex social systems. You can follow him on Twitter @traviskorte.



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