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Mission: Possible – Data and Accountability

Data Team members Bridget Timmeney and Michelle Miller-Adams, both of the W.E. Upjohn Institute, are helping The Learning Network integrate evidence-based decision making and accountability into its work.

One of The Learning Network’s core values is that accountability matters and that accurate metrics are critical to measuring its successes and failures. Metrics can also serve as the “glue” holding together the community partnerships that are essential for meeting the needs of students throughout their educational careers. 

To help implement an evidence-based accountability system, staff from the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research are leading The Learning Network’s Data Team. Michelle Miller-Adams, research fellow, and Bridget Timmeney, special projects coordinator, are the two individuals primarily responsible for the Upjohn Institute’s ongoing efforts with The Learning Network. The Institute’s president, Randy Eberts, sits on The Learning Network’s Executive Team.

“What is most important is not simply collecting data,”says Miller-Adams. “Our goal is to help integrate evidence-based decision making and accountability into the work of The Learning Network. Bridget and I are members of a larger team that works closely with organizations to help them understand how data can support better client service and to show how the community can better leverage its resources.”

“The Upjohn Institute has significant expertise with data,” Timmeney adds. “We know how to collect it, how to analyze it, and how to integrate it into an organization’s operations. But we also know how data can tell a story. So one of the assets we bring to The Learning Network is not just data management, but our collective ability to share meaningful stories that emerge from the data.”

The Data Team’s Roles

Upjohn Institute staff have specific tasks that contribute to the Data Team’s role in The Learning Network. For example, early on it performed a “landscape assessment” to map community resources serving youth and assess existing collaborative efforts and data capacity. The Upjohn Institute also designed a community scorecard, which became the blueprint for The Learning Network’s Action Networks. The staff have an ongoing role in providing support for the data needs of the individual Action Networks. And they are working closely with the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (KRESA) to purchase and help maintain a longitudinal data platform that will assist programs with tracking their outcomes.

Community Scorecard

According to Timmeney, the community scorecard is based on The Learning Network’s cradle-to-career and lifelong learning continuum. “We looked at research regarding critical points along that developmental continuum,” she explains. “Among the key points that really make a difference for a child are kindergarten readiness, third- and sixth-grade reading and math proficiency, the high school transition and high school graduation. These markers have strong predictive value for future success, so the community scorecard is set up around those key indicators. In fact, the whole idea of Action Networks is to collectively move those indicators.” 

“For example,” Miller-Adams adds, “people working with kids zero to five are now networked around the specific goal of kindergarten readiness. The idea of The Learning Network is for organizations and individuals in Kalamazoo to continue to do their good work, but to do it in better alignment with each other. One way we assess whether that’s happening is if we see positive progress on some of the scorecard’s community-level indicators.”

Action Network Support

The Upjohn Institute’s support for the Action Networks focuses on helping those networks understand their data and examining how their interventions work. One example of its work can be found in the network involved with high school graduation and college/career readiness.

Timmeney says, “Research shows that if students complete and submit the federal form for student financial aid, they’re more likely to attend and stay in college. So part of this Action Network’s goal is to increase the percentage of students completing this form. We have helped the network gather both baseline and follow-up data around events designed to help parents and students with this task. Ultimately, we will use data to see if those kinds of interventions drive up successful post-secondary enrollment and completion rates.”

Data Platform

The longitudinal data platform is in its very early stages, but it will eventually become the backbone of the Action Networks within The Learning Network. “The data platform is at the core of what The Learning Network is all about,” says Miller-Adams. “It’s about tracking the progress of individuals involved in specific programs so that program managers can provide the most appropriate, effective programs to meet the needs of our children. It’s about assuring that our children are making the progress they should along the educational continuum — and if not, finding out why and what we can do to help. And it’s about evidence-based decision making to help program managers improve their programs. This is the same data platform used by the Harlem Children’s Zone, and we know how successful that legendary initiative has been. We want to do the same for this community.”

“The Learning Network’s developmental continuum is about individual children moving successfully from stage to stage,” Miller-Adams concludes. “But The Learning Network has two faces: one individual and one collective. Ultimately, what we’re doing is for and about individual kids, but all of those kids being successful adds up to success for our community.”