Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wonk This Way: Investing in DC's Data Capacity

Throughout the Performance & Budget Oversight season, DC Alliance of Youth Advocates will post captivating, moving, and/or educational testimonies to help keep you in the advocacy loop. This week we're bringing you our Performance Oversight testimony on OSSE from our own Senior Policy Analyst, Joseph Gavrilovich.

Watch full DC Council hearings here:  

Much of our daily work at DCAYA is grounded in OSSE’s rich data capacity. In the past several years, their Statewide Longitudinal Education Data System (better known as the SLED database) has been a critical tool in transforming the District’s approach to decision-making in education.

As you are all aware, for the past four years and up to this point, SLED has relied on a federal grant for $1.3 million per year. That funding is set to expire, and there are significant performance risks to consider if there isn’t consistent local funding to replace it. This was forecast in testimony to this committee last year too, and we’re at a point again to make a decision about whether to invest further. We at DCAYA are concerned that some capabilities may be hindered or halted if funding isn’t held at the present level.

Data from SLED drive important efforts, such as an Early Warning Indicator System used to help identify students at risk of failing to meet key outcomes of academic success. This initiative has been developed as a strategy to combat the flood of youth disconnection from our education system, which has left some 8,100 youth ages 16 to 24 without a high school credential. Using SLED, the DC Youth Re-engagement Center (REC) can specifically target those who have dropped out to start the assessment and referral process that connects them back to school.The DC ReEngagment Center is successfully leveraging existing resources and systems to maximize impact and has moved 249 youth forward on sustainable educational pathways. In order to ensure the REC’s ability to achieve the scope and scale necessary to provide these supports, investments should be made to secure both an aggressive staffing model and SLED’s critical role in identifying this vulnerable population.

In my role at DCAYA, I am facilitating a first-of-its-kind partnership among OSSE and nine (and counting) afterschool and summer learning providers. The DC Expanded Learning Data Partnership is bringing together these providers to demonstrate for multiple audiences – including schools, parents, outside funders, the mayor and agency leaders, and all of you – the outstanding impact that these programs collectively have on the academic, participation, social/emotional and health and wellness outcomes for kids.

Engagements like this are such a rising part of the agency’s work, that OSSE staff are pressed to keep up with the momentum of the various networks they’ve helped to create.Effective use of data depends on relationships – to manage processes, answer questions, do the actual exchange of information, train network users, and help people make sense of what they’re seeing. I believe it would be a prudent investment of resources to consider more staff positions to support these network engagements and oversee each portfolio. We’ve seen monumental improvement in OSSE’s engagement with external education stakeholders that has resulted in swift action to improve citywide outcomes. The loss of SLED would set a number of initiatives back.

I would be remiss not to mention the demand we hear regularly for expanded transportation supports for youth 22-24. Over the last year, our partners at OSSE and within the DME’s office have been working with us to elevate the need for expanding Kids Ride Free to youth through age 24. While we understand the budgetary constraints and complicated logistics of delivering this program, we also know that transportation costs remain an especially pervasive barrier for disconnected and re-engaging older youth.

Students ages 22-24 still lack the access to citywide transportation support that their younger classmates enjoy through Kids Ride Free. In an effort to ground policy and budget decisions on the expansion of Kids Ride Free through age 24 in data, DCAYA designed a survey of alternative and adult education students ages 16-24, and based on an initial data analysis, their responses call for action: 62% of 22-24 year olds reported missing classes 3 or more times a month because they could not afford transportation. 37% of youth in this age range reported missing class even more frequently due to the cost of transportation—7 or more days a month. It’s clear we must do more to alleviate the financial burden of transportation for these students.

Smart use of data in planning and decision-making is critical for working toward educational success throughout the lives of our young people, from their first steps to their first jobs. With SLED and dedicated staff working under the Office of the State Superintendent, the District is already poised to lead in data-driven decision making in education. The question for all of us, OSSE leadership, and this committee is: can we ensure the stability of funding and the setting of agency priorities necessary to sustain OSSE as a data-informed and -driven partner? One in which SLED access continues to expand across education networks, data innovation deepens the impact of those networks, and agency staff are empowered to lead those dynamic engagements.

Finally, we thank this Council for the additional resources provided to OSSE for the provision of McKinney-Vento services to homeless DC students and we look forward to a report of how these resources were deployed in FY15. Additionally, with the rate of children experiencing homelessness at unprecedented levels here in the District, we hope that this committee can continue to work closely with OSSE to ensure that every LEA and each school, has the resources they need to meet the needs of these students.

Look for more information on Performance and Budget Oversight in the coming weeks! For more on today's testimony, please contact Joseph Gavrilovich at!

No comments: