DC’s failure to establish a longitudinal data system jeopardizes school efficiency, student progress, and recovery from learning losses


WASHINGTON–(COMMERCIAL THREAD) – Although the DC public school system has a reputation for being a rapidly improving urban district, a new report from the DC Auditor’s Office warns that the district’s failure to implement a data system State longitudinal limits its ability to identify where investments and interventions are most needed to support students and ensure educational equity throughout the city.

At a time when the disruption of schools due to the pandemic has put even more children at school risk, the district does not have the information it needs to accurately assess where children are at, how many learnings have been taken. lost and what learners need to reach their full potential. The absence of a robust data system in the district puts the most vulnerable children at even greater educational risk. In schools with the largest population of underserved, disabled, homeless, or highly mobile black students, teachers simply don’t have the information they need to better meet the needs of students.

Measuring What Matters: More and Better Data Needed to Improve DC Public Schools, concluded that the district lacks a comprehensive and vigorous approach to collecting, sharing and analyzing data on a range of critical indicators of learning and growth. The lack of consistent data on everything from academic progress to student behavior and pathways throughout school years puts the school system behind that of other states. This despite an investment of $ 35 million from federal and local sources and a commitment from three administrations.

DC’s two-year auditor’s audit of public education data was recommended by the 2015 National Research Council report, An Assessment of District of Columbia Public Schools, and mandated under the District of Columbia Educational Research Partnership Establishment and Audit Act, 2018. The auditor’s office examined the practices and data sets over six school years, from 2014 to 2019, to document the education data collected and how it is used.

“As we face the urgent crises of the past year related to COVID learning loss and the legacy of racial injustice, the district lacks the capacity to harness the power of a system solid data to understand where students are academically, the gaps in their learning, and how best to step in and set them on the path to success, ”said Kathy Patterson, DC Auditor. “It is disheartening that, despite millions of federal and local dollars and a long-standing promise to build a robust longitudinal data system over the past 14 years, the district has not done so. We cannot stand idly by and continue to hide this lack of data capacity, especially at this time when it is critical to a strong recovery and the well-being of children. ”

The auditor’s review found that the district lacked data integrity, had not exercised its authority to develop the strong data systems needed for sound decision-making and limited research to assess the impact of university programs and drive continuous improvement efforts. The results show that the District has:

  • Failed to create data system capacity required by its federal grants or DC Code mandated data warehouse.

  • Unable to provide longitudinal data in schools and districts.

  • Perpetuated flawed systems for collecting and reporting data on attendance and chronic absenteeism.

  • Failure to follow the trajectory of a large number of high school students assigned to alternative programs.

  • Data suppressed on student college enrollments.

  • Failed to adequately track transfer trends of high school students leaving charter and district selective high schools for regular public schools.

  • Failure to track coursework, credit completion and other indicators that would allow the development of an early warning system to support struggling students and keep them on track to graduation.

  • Failed to ensure data integrity, raising questions about the validity of data published in report cards.

  • Unable to ensure that other critical data collections are complete.

While the auditor commended the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) for the progress made in collecting essential data on teachers and, this year, establishing unique identifiers for each teacher, the report disagrees with OSSE’s assertions that the district’s commitment to data is sufficient.

With significant federal and local investments, the field of statewide longitudinal data systems is extraordinarily robust. Collectively, these systems offer a portfolio of best practices and established standards aimed at improving student outcomes and ensuring fairness. These long-term investments continue to deliver benefits at all levels of government, especially at the intersection where education researchers and state and local policymakers do their work.

These investments are not visible in the District. The report recommends a comprehensive improvement plan to address gaps in the district’s data systems and suggests legislative and monitoring approaches to monitor progress in achieving these goals.

“Our students are currently facing an unprecedented degree of learning loss due to the many challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. And to address this growing problem, our school communities will need access to accurate and interconnected data in order to develop tailor-made student learning recovery plans, “said Mary Cheh, Board Member of the DC. “Unfortunately, and as suspected, the auditor’s report found that the district was not following established best practices for data quality. We cannot provide appropriate services and support to our students until we resolve this data issue. – and the need is more urgent than ever. ”

DC Chairman Phil Mendelson called for a public hearing with the Auditor and OSSE before Committee of the Whole on March 18 to address findings and questions regarding the district’s lack of a data system longitudinal sections of the state.

“The most pressing issue in our city is to make our schools work for every child, regardless of race or income. Without the data to measure student progress, it is impossible to close the deep gap in opportunities for our students, ”said Robert White, DC board member. “What gets measured gets managed. I hope this report spurs our collective action to collect the right data on students and to respond to the data before us about schools. Without the right data, we can guess the way forward. We can do better than that. ”

The United States Department of Education defines a longitudinal data system as a system that “collects and maintains detailed, high-quality student and staff level data that is linked between entities and over time, providing a historical record. complete study and performance of each student ”. In the district, the essential data needed to determine the performance of the most disadvantaged children over time is lacking, because the national education agency has never collected it effectively, the auditor notes, although he has clear legal authority to do so. According to the report.

“Knowledge is power,” Patterson said. “Other districts use strong student data to track progress, both backward and forward, to gain important information about student needs. This allows informed decisions to be made about where resources are going to address learning loss and meet the real needs of students. The District relies, at best, on anecdotal evidence and good intentions. At worst, we are groping in the dark.

The mission of the District of Columbia Auditor’s Office (ODCA) is to support the District of Columbia Council by making sound recommendations that improve the effectiveness, efficiency and accountability of the district government. Learn more at www.dcauditor.org.


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