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PreK-12 Ed Eval TIG Week: Education Evaluation’s Lessons Learned from a Year at Home by Amanda Klein-Cox

I’m Amanda Klein-Cox, owner of Engage with Data (formerly Structured Solutions). I help K-12 schools, districts, and education non-profits use data to measure their impact, particularly around family engagement.

I’ve been reflecting lately about how life has changed since the pandemic started. Somehow, we’ve made it through this year of change, fear, and loss.

It has also been a year full of learning and growing as people and evaluators. Here is what I’ve learned:

1. Educators have realized that families are critically important partners in the work of educating children … and that we need to listen to their feedback.

From focus groups and surveys I’ve conducted, educators have seen how important family engagement is for getting their own work done, especially when so much of it takes place at home.

?As a result, there’s been an increase in the number of family surveys and focus groups from school districts and partners, which is wonderful for stakeholder engagement!

I encourage my clients to collect feedback in a variety of free, accessible ways, including polls through Zoom or social media, to reach as many families as possible.

Hot Tip:

Of course, sometimes a full survey is needed. I love using Panorama Education’s open-source, validated survey instruments to build out custom surveys for clients. They even have a scale for remote and hybrid learning.

2. Educators have become increasingly open to using data to understand how well they are reaching their students and families. 

I’ve noticed an increased appetite for learning to use data to drive supports for children and families. Without kids and families in their buildings every day, educators could no longer rely on memory or conversations with peers to know who they were reaching… and who had barriers that the school needed to help families overcome.

I’ve worked with a number of schools, districts, and organizations on their use of data this year, so imagine my PURE JOY to hear that a staff member at one of these schools said that with the use of the data tracker we developed, “We are no longer guessing.” 

As evaluators, we can help clients use simple, low- or no-cost strategies (see #3) to make sure they know EXACTLY what’s happening with each of their kids. No one’s falling through the cracks on our watch. 

3. Data visualization is critical in helping educators make sense of and actually use data to improve their work.

Most educators are not trained to be data people, so we need to guide them in building their capacity around understanding data and using results to adjust their practices.

Setting up easy-to-maintain dashboards and trackers in Excel or Google sheets is one way to facilitate this process. Another is improving our own data viz to make the results of our evaluations clearer and more direct.

With more effective data visualization, our clients won’t get lost in the weeds – we can help focus their attention on the most important leverage points for improvement.

I’ve also found that improved visuals are great for conversations around equity – in a glance, clients can see if they are truly meeting the needs of all students and families and where additional supports may be needed.

Rad Resources:

Here’s a past AEA365 post about data viz for K-12 educators. Storytelling with Data has also helped me tremendously in streamlining my visuals and making them more effective for clients.

As we start to transition back to some semblance of normal life, I hope that we remember all that we’ve learned this year and continue to bring creativity and clarity to the work of educational evaluation.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Ed Eval TIG Week with our colleagues in the PreK-12 Educational Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our Ed Eval TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

3 thoughts on “PreK-12 Ed Eval TIG Week: Education Evaluation’s Lessons Learned from a Year at Home by Amanda Klein-Cox”

  1. Hi Amanda,
    Being now into another school year that is somewhat more “normal” I find your post about some of the lessons learned from teaching at home a good reminder.
    I am an Elementary teacher, currently teaching a grade 3/4 split class. During the lockdown and online teaching period of COVID in 2020, I was teaching grade 6. Since then, I have also had a baby.
    I think you are absolutely correct in pinpointing the importance of families and their feedback when it comes to educating young learners. I have to admit that as a teacher, communication with parents can be one of my least favourite parts of the job. However, it is immensely important to get the input of families in order to meet the students needs and to understand that part of their lives and how it affects their learning. As a new mom, I am also learning this for the first time from the other perspective. There are many things I would want my daughter’s educators to know or which I would want to know about her time at school. This communication is so key in helping students succeed and in meeting their needs. With this in mind, I think the idea of surveys or questionnaires for parents is something I would like to start using in my classroom.

    Thank you so much for your post!

  2. Hi Amanda,
    I am currently a Principal at an elementary school in Northern BC. I also work as the school’s Coach/Mentor, which means that I am always working to achieve equity for our Indigenous students. One of the responsibilities I have is to gather data on three different goals that we have in our Indigenous Education Enhancement Agreement. I agree completely that educators are not always familiar with gather and analyzing data! This has been my biggest challenge in this role. I know what information I have to gather and can get that part done but it is the analyzing and then reporting that I struggle with. Peers show up with amazing graphs and charts and I have my trusty checklist with checkmarks or x’s on it. As the school administrator, I will make it a priority to ensure that there are professional development opportunities for staff who are interested in data collection and how impactful it can be on student achievement. Is there a user friendly program that you would recommend for a beginning data analysis educator?

  3. Charlotte Illingworth

    Hi Amanda,
    Thank you for sharing this post. I am currently completing my Professional Master of Education at Queen’s University while also teaching grades 2 & 3 French Immersion. I found your post to be particularly relevant to some of the challenges I have had in the classroom. I couldn’t agree more with your stance on the increased importance of family feedback when it comes to managing the engagement of students in the K-12 environment. You mention the free and easy to access feedback mechanisms that we should be making available to parents. Although I have found success with these same strategies, I am starting to notice that parent engagement is the becoming the biggest barrier to gathering feedback.
    I am finding that some parents simply do not engage with my attempts to make contact, collect feedback or offer support services. Do you have any suggestions of specific implementations I could make use of in a virtual school environment to maneuver around this barrier? In your analysis, what has been the most effective feedback collection methodology?

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