It’s hard to report when you’re busy doing

As we continue to work on our Proof Points series we’ve found an interesting phenomenon: as we reported previously, quite a few districts in their first years of blended learning programs are so busy implementing that they haven’t taken much time to track their results, and they certainly haven’t put much effort into reporting. This is particularly true of district-level blended learning implementations that may be working with different groups of students, for instance using online courses for dual credit and credit recovery for high school students, math skills software for elementary school students, and courses for homebound students of all ages. This issue became apparent again when I received an email from a district that we have been speaking with for several weeks, as we gather information about its various programs. (I’ve edited the text for clarity and to remove sensitive or identifying information.)

"Putting information together for your research has given me the opportunity to see that we offer options never before seen in public education. It is absolutely amazing to see what our district has done to help students progress with their individual needs…"

Similarly, a leader in another district who has been responding to our information requests wrote this to our research team:

"THANKS A BUNCH for asking probing questions that caused us to dig in – in a very different way!"

This second example is from a district that has done more with data than most districts. But it had been focused on using outcomes data to influence instruction, not primarily for reporting to any external sources.

We and others have written about the need for the increased use of data in education, particularly data tied to student outcomes. But the Proof Points research is showing that blended learning programs fall into at least three categories relative to data use. One category is made of up the programs that don’t yet have good data because they aren’t yet measuring outcomes or don’t yet have positive results. Another category made up of the programs that have good outcomes data and can report it. A third category is made up of the programs that have data that they are using for internal purposes, including improving instruction, but haven’t yet made the leap to presenting that information in an accessible way for students, parents, and other stakeholders.

To educators who are working as hard as possible to implement a blended program, reporting outcomes may feel like it’s a secondary task. And perhaps it is, relative to the work that must be done to get students to pass courses, or graduate. But for the long-run health of the program, such reporting is crucial because it will build a broad base of support for the digital initiative.