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New parent ‘dashboard’ to offer quick look at schools

New parent ‘dashboard’ to offer quick look at schools

Some Regents worry data won't provide the 'whole story' of a school
New parent ‘dashboard’ to offer quick look at schools
Mont Pleasant Middle School has done poorly on state tests, a data point on a state "dashboard.".
Photographer: Gazette file photo

ALBANY -- State education officials plan to roll out a new “parent dashboard” that provides school-level data on enrollment and demographics, test scores, average class size, school climate and other information.

A preliminary dashboard is scheduled to go live sometime this month as the state Education Department continues to gather public input on what the dashboard should look like. But the Board of Regents on Monday expressed concerns that the data selected as part of the dashboard could focus too much attention on test scores and obscure the challenges facing some of the state’s lowest-performing schools.

Regent Lester Young said the limited data included in the initial dashboard, which was viewed Monday, didn’t do enough to highlight the underlying factors that affect tests scores and other academic outcomes. It also didn't show the different opportunities and programs available in different schools.

“There is a significant relationship between the [outcome] data and the opportunities that exist,” Young said. “When you provide data that actually encourages readers to compare one school to the next and you are only reporting outcomes without what are the opportunities, people go on a search for the guilty.”

Some regents pointed to other factors that make up a school's “whole story," such as college advisers, guidance counselor­s, arts programming and budget considerations. Regent Judith Johnson also said she was concerned some of the data, if not provided in a fuller context, could lead some families to avoid particular schools.

A school’s performance on state tests was one of five data points displayed on a school’s main page.

“I’m almost afraid of sending this out even for comment if one of the emphases is on student's test scores as something parents can compare when we realize some of the limitations on student test scores,” Regent Roger Tilles said.

Tilles pointed out that in a survey conducted by department staff as it designed the dashboard parent respondents didn’t rank test scores in the top four types of data they would find most helpful. Surveyed parents ranked class size as the top type of data they wanted followed by data on school safety.

Education Department staff described the release of the new portal this month as a soft launch of sorts, with plans to continue surveying parents about how to improve the dashboard and reaching out to more organizations for feedback before formally launching the dashboard next spring.

The parent dashboard will connect with the department’s existing public data platform, which includes a litany of both school-level and district-level sources of data. Starting in the new parent dashboard, users could continue to click through to more and more detailed data, department staff told the Board of Regents.

“If you continue to click and want to get additional detail, you are being provided more and more fine-grain information about the school,” said Paul Butler-Nalin, executive director in the department of data systems and educational technology.

Butler-Nalin said the department will monitor how the dashboard is used over the coming months and continue to make changes and additions before a finalized version is rolled out next year.

Some members of the board acknowledged it was difficult for a data dashboard to truly offer a full picture of a school, how it’s performing and what factors contribute to that performance, while emphasizing the importance of open access to information.

“I don’t think it’s realistic this dashboard can present all the data and answer all the questions parents want,” Regent Judith Chin said.

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