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How can states provide high-quality special education program data?

Helping states improve IDEA data quality

Challenge

States need high-quality data to better understand the characteristics of students with disabilities, follow their performance, and determine whether implemented programs are having the desired effects. At the local level, sound data are important for designing instruction in the classroom and for planning the appropriate path for students from preschool through young adulthood. At the federal level, ED’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and others need accurate state and local special education data to inform policy and allocate resources. With an entire system built upon a foundation of data, it is crucial that these data be accurate, timely, and complete.

Solution

This is where IDEA Data Center (IDC) comes in. Building on Westat’s deep knowledge of special education data and decades-long support of OSEP’s efforts to improve results for students with disabilities, we provide technical assistance (TA) that is precise, efficient, and dedicated to creating and sustaining a culture of high-quality data. To ensure that we are effectively meeting states’ needs, IDC provides a continuum of TA services—intensive, targeted, and universal.

We provide intensive TA through sustained partnerships with states to support them as they address both in-depth and long-term data challenges, resulting in meaningful and lasting change over time. For example, as part of our intensive TA offerings, we deliver individualized professional development opportunities and trainings to advance Part B data managers’ skills, knowledge, and understanding for managing IDEA data and support them in resolving data quality issues.  To avoid data collection start-overs in the event of staff turnovers, we support states in documenting their special education data processes to ensure data continuity when onboarding new staff. 

IDC primarily directs targeted TA to states and locals that have common TA needs. We host webinars, peer-to-peer exchanges, and national meetings. Our annual Interactive Institutes offer state teams a space to share data quality challenges and explore solutions with colleagues and content experts alike. Our first Significant Disproportionality Summit created a platform for state and district staff to discuss strategies, processes, and infrastructures related to racial or ethnic disproportionality in special education. Hands on Learning Academies bring together small groups of states to assist them in learning about a new resource and provide collaborative opportunities for them to apply those resources to their own data.   

IDC’s universal TA includes our quarterly newsletter—the IDC Bee, the development of innovative and just-in-time tools, and the dissemination of those tools on our dynamic website. Our Success Gaps Toolkit leads districts and school leaders through the process of identifying the root causes of success gaps in their education systems and strategizing how to reduce or eliminate them. Our SEA and LEA EDFacts Edit Check and Data Display Tools allow states to pinpoint data-quality errors and mistakes for correction. IDC’s twice-monthly podcast, A Date with Data, highlights the stories of the states with whom we work, and features state special education directors, data managers, preschool coordinators, and other state and local staff with data responsibilities.

An independent team conducts IDC’s formative and summative evaluations and analyzes and summarizes the data. This work is essential to ensuring IDC is making progress towards our short- and long-term outcomes and is successfully meeting OSEP’s goals and objectives for high-quality special education data.

Results

Since 2013, IDC’s overarching goal has been to improve state and local capacity to collect, analyze, report, and use IDEA data accurately and effectively to ultimately improve outcomes for students with disabilities. IDC has provided high-quality TA services to state and local agencies to identify strengths and areas for improvement, address IDEA data quality needs and challenges, and increase use of data. Recipients of IDC TA report positive changes in their knowledge, understanding, and skills related to IDEA data.  IDC also has developed and disseminated products and resources to support TA efforts and successfully build state and local capacity to address data quality issues and concerns.  IDC has also collaborated and coordinated with others in the field to strategically inform work from the gathered data.

Our work is helping states and districts build and sustain a culture of high-quality data in order to make the system-wide changes that are needed to improve the outcomes for children and students with disabilities.

Julie Bollmer, Project Director

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