CUEL is devoting increased attention to understanding the principles and practices of quality data system design, along with the consequences for educators when poor data system designs amplify systemic inequities and distort education policies. Our expertise in this area has benefited from collaborative partnerships with national and regional foundations, school districts, and state lead education agencies. Currently CUEL researchers are pursuing two broad lines of inquiry around data system design.
Data Systems for Continuous Improvement: First, over the past decade CUEL has become a recognized national leader in the design of data and measurement systems to support continuous improvement within organizations. We have designed a state of the art data system that is used by the University of Illinois at Chicago for the continuous improvement of its Doctoral Program in Urban Education Leadership. We’ve been sharing lessons learned with various national networks and projects that have been focused on the continuous improvement of university-based leadership preparation programs including networks facilitated by The Wallace Foundation’s University Principal Preparation Initiative (UPPI) and the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) – both of which have enacted multiyear efforts to support preparation program improvement, and also regularly work with individual university-based leadership preparations to support their design and use of data systems to support continuous improvement. Here we plan to share several recent and forthcoming publications that clarify why data system design matters fundamentally to improving principal preparation impacts and assuring that equity is foundational to school leadership practice.
Assessment Systems: A second focus of our current work involves the design of PK-12 assessment systems to guide both instructional improvement and interventions for whole school improvement at the district and state levels. This line of inquiry builds particularly from the recent work of CUEL colleague Paul Zavitkovsky. Across more than a decade, Paul’s research has named and critiqued the distortions that follow from design flaws in state-wide accountability regimes – for example, arbitrary designations of “cut-scores” to demarcate student proficiency levels. At the same time, Paul has demonstrated that standardized test scores derived from well-crafted assessment systems like NAEP can yield invaluable information to districts about multi-year trends in student learning, provided the data are organized to fairly locate schools and sub-groups of students within a state’s full scoring distribution. The power of this approach is captured in Paul’s 2017 “Upstate/Downstate” report with CUEL colleague Dr. Steve Tozer, which documented the relative success of the Chicago Public Schools in raising the achievement of minority students when compared to suburban and rural districts in Illinois. Most recently Paul has offered a sharp critique of the negative consequences of situating standardized interim assessment testing systems at the center of district or state accountability regimes. These systems often are valued by teachers and parents for providing timely diagnostic and instructional guidance. But the content and structure of the guidance easily drives teaching toward discrete skills and shallow “drill and kill” approaches – amounting to what Paul describes as a new “pedagogy of poverty.” Taking the Chicago Public School’s adoption of the NWEA/MAP assessment system as a cautionary tale, Zavitkovsky’s analyses tracks the district-wide implementation of MAP in 2014 to a decline in CPS learning gains for poor and minority CPS students. As Paul notes, more trustworthy information systems are on the horizon, such as those in development for Chicago’s new Curriculum Equity Initiative, which integrate content, instruction, and assessment around principles of deeper learning and teaching emerging from the Learning Sciences.