Chad d'Entremont Photo courtesy of the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy
Chad d’Entremont
Photo courtesy of the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy

“Our definitions of education are rapidly expanding,” Chad d’Entremont, executive director of the Rennie Center, said in a recent interview about Massachusetts’ education system. That expansion has spread from grade school outward to early education, after school time, and summer programs. At the same time, d’Entremont says, “the pace of reform has been accelerating.”

In such a fast-paced policy environment, monitoring student outcomes can be like trying to scoop up the ocean with a measuring cup.

That’s why the Rennie Center, a nonprofit education policy organization, is launching the Condition of Education in the Commonwealth project, or COE. The project will create an annually released dashboard of data that measures key educational outcomes from birth through adulthood.

As the dashboard report notes, “efforts to address continuing challenges—ranging from a lack of school readiness to a lingering proficiency gap to the need to ensure all students are college and career ready—have led to increasingly sophisticated, but, at times, disjointed approaches to reform.”

The report says that long-term success requires “the development and constant maintenance of a more comprehensive vision. Effective reform results from understanding our current status as a state, monitoring changes over time, and acting on new information describing both our strengths and deficits.”

The Condition of Education project asks, “whether our entire education system is properly structured to ensure all students succeed.”

Rennie will kick off this project on Thursday, November 21, at 8:30am, at the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston. “The event will feature remarks by Secretary of Education Matt Malone, and a panel comprised of the board chairs of the state’s education agencies, moderated by Monica Brady-Myerov, formerly of WBUR and founder of Listen Edition,” according to the event’s registration website.

Rennie’s goal is to create a user-friendly reference guide that is released annually and fuels more nuanced conversations among educational decision-makers about the state’s educational policies and practices.

The dashboard will show data drawn from a series of what d’Entremont calls “dipstick” tests taken at key transition points in four areas: birth to third grade; fourth through eighth grade; the high school years; and on into college and careers. A fifth area looks at how prepared and effective teachers and other educators and providers are.

Key data indicators will be featured for each segment of the education continuum. For the critical early learning years, Rennie will report on attendance in high-quality early education and care programs, the use of the Massachusetts kindergarten assessment tool, and third grade reading proficiency.

As the dashboard explains, “Children’s first few years are characterized by enormous cognitive, social, and emotional growth. Quality early learning experiences create a strong foundation for future success and are linked to improved academic performance.”

Other key indicators are whether students pass all their ninth grade classes and whether they complete the MassCore, a recommended program of study that’s meant to boost career and college readiness. The dashboard will also track high school and college graduation rates.

The dashboard also looks at how many postsecondary degrees and certificates the state’s schools award in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math — because of the high demand for workers in these areas.

Over time, the dashboard will grow. It’s designed to be a “living” tool, one that’s responsive to feedback; changes in education; and advances in data collection. In future years, the dashboard will be accompanied by reports on a range of educational topics such as English Language Learners.

Rennie has built consensus around the dashboard by working with an advisory committee that includes educators, policy and advocacy leaders (including Early Education for All campaign director Amy O’Leary), and representatives from the departments of Early Education and Care, Elementary and Secondary Education, and Executive Office of Education. Academics and researchers are also at the table.

The project isn’t trying to push any one reform or assign blame, d’Entremont says. And this work is definitively not meant to produce a ranking system. Rather, d’Entremont explains, the data is a way for Massachusetts to more firmly embrace a philosophy of “continuous improvement.”

Now is the time to further advance that reputation by building a birth-college/career policy structure that can serve all students well for the next 20 years.

Check out the conversation on Twitter: #ConditionOfEducation.