In an effort to accelerate learning, districts across the nation are doubling down on data to guide classroom practices. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any district not committed to a “data-driven” approach to drive academic support in the years ahead. But the types of data that inform the approach matter. 

For instance, LearnPlatform, a system that helps educators and administrators manage aspects of their edtech on one platform, offers districts access to a national Edtech Equity Dashboard that’s updated weekly with real-time data on students’ edtech engagement to identify digital learning disparities. In turn, state and district leadership gain visibility into edtech engagement gaps based on factors such as students’ socioeconomic status and racial makeup. 

The dashboard marks a promising first step toward closing the digital divide and reflects a growing recognition among education leaders of a fundamental truth: students’ success depends, at least in part, on the resources accessible to them. Therefore, school systems must collect data not only on what students are learning, but what they’re able to access. In short, to effectively transform K–-12 schools, student data systems must be able to identify opportunity gaps alongside academic ones. 

Of course, access to technology isn’t the only resource inequity districts must grapple with to ensure every student has the opportunity to learn. 

Opportunity gaps reflect relationship gaps

Beyond students’ access to edtech, depending on their backgrounds, students also possess vastly different relationships that they can tap into for academic and social support. For instance, one student may be born into a family with grandparents on standby and a parent who can flexibly work from home and provide homework help as needed. However, another student may rely on an older sibling to provide supports like a ride to school or a meal afterschool and only sees his parents in the evening near bedtime. In forcing many students to learn from home, the pandemic has exposed these stark differences in students’ access to individuals who can help them get by and get ahead. In some cases, students may find it even more difficult to identify any person who could provide them with help.

Therefore, for schools and districts that aim to ensure every student in the community thrives capturing data on students’ access to reliable relationships—alongside academic data—will be essential in providing equitable support.  

Fortunately, efforts to move in this direction are already taking place. Earlier this year, I joined a panel of experts convened by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a nonpartisan research center, to discuss how districts can leverage data they’re already collecting from their learning management platforms to help students thrive emotionally and academically during remote learning. Not surprisingly, a key recommendation that emerged from the group is that districts would benefit from combining data on students’ contexts (e.g., access to edtech, access to supportive relationships) with data on student outcomes. According to the panel’s subsequent report, panelists concluded that “Data on students’ assignment completion rate is more meaningful and actionable when combined with information on students’ prior performance, technology and internet access, and household conditions.” 

When context-specific data is presented in the form of teacher-friendly dashboards, educators can surface the right data at the right time to support every student’s learning. But the benefits of integrating academic data with data on students’ contexts doesn’t just affect what happens in the classroom. As some districts are learning, collecting data on students’ household conditions also offers a unique opportunity to build authentic relationships with students’ families that can translate to improved support outside of school walls. 

Data on schools’ interactions with students’ families can power equitable conditions for learning 

Regular reflection on the familial relationships students’ lean on outside the classroom is essential to supporting the whole child. Going one step further, the Flamboyan Foundation offers schools a way to not only identify student’s family connections, but measure how the school interacts with students’ families. Based in Washington, D.C., Flamboyan recognizes that solutions to support students most impacted by inequity must include data to effectively guide family engagement strategies. 

For the approximately 60 schools they serve in the D.C. area, Flamboyan offers training for school leaders to capture both survey data and conduct qualitative interviews to ensure families are served equitably. Flamboyan also offers school partners access to an edtech platform to capture data on students’ contexts. Through these classroom-level dashboards, educators can view data on the depth of engagement with students’ families (quantified as the number of engagements) as well as document their perceptions of the percentage of families with whom they have trusting relationships. This data is then broken down by race/ethnicity, gender, and student ELL status to drive school-level decisions on where to best focus their time and energy in service of building equitable, two-way, trusting relationships with families.  

The Flamboyan Foundation also offers schools an Academic Partnering Toolkit as well as a Relationship Building Toolkit that can be used by educators as a starting point to drive authentic relationship-building with students’ families to support both student learning and wellness.  

Education leaders and policymakers are understandably focused on collecting academic data to track students’ acceleration in the year ahead. But test scores are only part of the puzzle. Data on students’ contexts and relationships needs to sit alongside test scores if system leaders hope to create equitable conditions for learning. Ensuring the edtech market creates data systems that allow educators to access this dual-pronged data is a critical first step.


  • Mahnaz Charania
    Mahnaz Charania