Poor data collection leaves policy makers uninformed
(District of Columbia) After 85 percent of districts in Florida and Texas reported zero instances of bullying in the most recent Civil Rights Data Collection Survey, federal officials announced late last week that they were revisiting how data is being collected–a problem experts say has been long-standing and all too common.
The department’s national survey of school climate factors, teacher quality and rigorous course access should help districts and state policy makers address apparent problem areas. When the data collected is not representative of reality, however, it cannot provide directions for school improvement.
“It’s been a struggle for us to get meaningful statistics from this survey because the data is so incomplete,” Victor Leung, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California, said in an interview. “I’m sure there are different causes for inaccuracies in different districts. I think sometimes it might be because a district does not want to release data that looks bad, and other times it’s just very poor data collection on behalf of the districts–and that I actually think is quite common.”
Improved transparency, a cornerstone of the Every Student Succeeds Act, requires schools report to parents, the community and lawmakers various aspects that impact students. This includes the number of teachers assigned to classes they are not credentialed to teach, students’ access to college-readiness and career education courses, and instances of violence or bullying on campus.
Lawmakers and school boards alike often rely on what has been commonly referred to as “valid and reliable data” to inform new policy recommendations. The Civil Rights survey results released in June, however, suggest at least some areas of data collection are still unreliable.
Schools across the country have made significant shifts to address issues like bullying in recent years, for example, through implementation of anti-bullying measures, social emotional learning, LGBT-friendly policies and restorative justice practices that allow students to find common ground through mediation. It is unlikely, though, that such behavior has been completely eradicated.
Advocates for various student groups say there is more to be done to address inequity in the classroom or in disciplinary policy, which is unlikely to be accomplished without proper data to help schools identify problems.
Leung, who is currently working on a report regarding police presence in schools in California, said plenty or errors can be found in that data as well.
In some cases, ACLU researchers have found a “zero” marked in the column detailing the number of police on campus, when it is known that the school has many officers present, he said. Other times, a district will have clearly put “one” down every column–similar to a student answering “C” for every question on a quiz.
The Education Department has acknowledged that, because the data is self-reported, there are likely errors to be found. In fact, an update posted to the survey results page last week claims the Department was “alerted to errors in data the state of Florida submitted on behalf of its school districts,” and is working to make corrections. Florida is one of the states that reported no occurrences of bullying in 85 percent of its districts.
“This is self-reported data from school districts, and while we know it’s not perfect, it’s the best national data available on issues of equity in schools,” Dorie Nolt, spokesperson for the Department of Education, said in an email. “We continue to look for ways and work with school districts to improve the accuracy of the data.”
Some districts, especially those which are smaller or more rural, do not have procedures for collecting data and simply do not keep it, Leung said.
“If they don’t keep the data, I guess there’s no way they can report it,” he said.Poor data collection leaves policy makers uninformed :: SI&A Cabinet Report :: The Essential Resource for Superintendents and the Cabinet: