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Lack of Comprehensive Data Accuracy Hinders Policy Making

Accuracy in data collection is needed in order to make better decisions for K-12 schools. For example, how many teachers do we need nation-wide should be a data point that is easy to collect. Or take testing results such as the announcement recently of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports on plunging passing rates in Math and English. Each of these data needs are important to K-12 decision makers.

But as regional shortages of teachers, bus drivers, food service workers, and paraeducators extended into a widespread crisis over the course of the pandemic, it’s clear that districts need to address their human capital issues more strategically and with an eye on longer-term sustainability. The quality of education—and kids’ learning recovery from the pandemic’s disruptions—depends on it.

EdWeek, September, 2022

Estimating Teacher Shortages

While teacher shortages are always hard to estimate, EdWeek reports that estimates of teacher shortages and positions filled with uncertified teachers are hard to come by even when researchers go after it. Several research groups have tried to put numbers to these important shortages:

Researchers from Kansas State University and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign estimate there are more than 36,500 teacher vacancies in the nation and more than 163,500 positions filled by teachers who aren’t fully certified or are uncertified in the subject area they are teaching.

Edweek, September 21, 2022

While these teacher shortages are hard to estimate, the shear size of the estimates tell us to act now to better support human development in schools.

California

A different example of data shortages happened in California, where one data group (the NAEP sampling data) is less useful than another (The Smarter Balanced test data). It should be remembered that NAEP’s test score results are based on a sampling of just a few thousand students in California. Compared to the almost 3 million students who take the “Smarter Balanced” set of tests in 3rd, 8th, and 11th grades, the NAEP scores generally point to the crisis whereas the Smarter Balanced scores point out where the crisis exists by district, subject, and grade level. The news is not good as 53% of K-12 students in Math and only 23% of K-12 students in English scored in the proficient range (Edweek, September 21, 2022).

Lack of Comprehensive Data Accuracy Hinders Policy Making

These two examples of data highlight our need for more accurate and more timely data. The inaccurate data and delayed results do not help policymakers, educators, district heads, principals, and teachers to make timely decisions.

All of them had limitations. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides monthly national employment updates, but it lumps together higher education and private schools alongside K-12 public schools. The National Center for Education Statistics collects nationally representative K-12 employment data, but it is released on a delay of about a year or more. And data from state education departments is usually more detailed and timely, but the approaches to reporting the data vary significantly by state, making it difficult to compare numbers.

EdWeek, September, 2022

What NAEP tells us is that declines in Math scores were higher than in English nationwide, but as the California example shows, the reverse is true. California will be making better policy with its more accurate Smarter Balanced tests and that is what we all need in education—because more accurate and timely data leads to better educational decisions.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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