At the end of January, Commissioner Tom Kimbrell named Cody Decker as the new Assistant Commissioner of Research and Technology and the Chief Information Officer for the ADE. Decker replaces Jim Boardman, who retired after a 43-year career at the Arkansas Department of Education. Most recently, Decker worked in the ADE as the Director of Information Systems and Coordinator of Special Projects. Prior to working at the ADE, he held positions at the Dawson Education Service Cooperative in Arkadelphia and at the EAST Initiative. In a recent interview with Decker, we learned more about his position, the Research and Technology Division, and his vision for the future. In this blog post, we are excited to share with you what we learned – and in future blog posts, we will provide updates on educational data systems and research in Arkansas.
According to Decker, the new motto of the Division of Research and Technology is: “to inform policy, equip educators, and protect and preserve student privacy.” In the interview, Decker laid out his plans to continue to build upon the prior work of the Division and praised the Division’s “culture of data-driven decision-making.” Decker discussed a phrase he uses often in his new position: “using data as a flashlight, not as a hammer.” Decker believes data should be primarily used as a diagnostic tool that assists the more complex work of educators and administrators.
Data Systems in Arkansas
During our discussion, Decker discussed the state’s rich data systems that allow for sound decision-making at the classroom, school, district, and state levels. Decker referred to Arkansas’ recent accolades from the Data Quality Campaign. In the 2013 edition of DQC’s annual report, Data for Action, Arkansas, along with Delaware, received the highest marks on the quality of statewide data systems. The report noted that Arkansas has “built robust statewide longitudinal data systems that collect quality data beyond test scores, and they are doing more and more to support effective data use.”
Recently, the Research and Technology Division held stakeholder engagement sessions around the state to receive feedback on the ADE’s data systems. Decker and his staff are using this information to continue to improve to the work of the Division.
The ADE Data Center hosts the collection and reporting of a number of data systems, including the newest school-level system, StudentGPS. The ADE’s goals for StudentGPS (developed by the Ed-Fi Alliance) are to “empower educators with relevant, timely student-centric information that enables better data collection and reporting to enhance decision making, facilitate targeted action plans and drive improved student outcomes.”
Decker articulated the continued need for well-understood data collection, storage, and usage policy and controls to protect students and educators. Opponents of data collection often argue that identifiable student data are open and shared; however, Decker clarified that Arkansas’ statewide student data longitudinal systems are designed to protect student privacy. The Statewide Information System Data Dictionary/Handbook is one example of a way that the department seeks to provide data transparency. The dictionary/handbook provides a comprehensive list of all data collected on Arkansas’ students, educators, schools, and districts.
Looking toward the future, Decker articulated his desire to use data to further advance the strong work of educators in the state. Decker and his Division have a vision to better use data to provide targeted professional development for educators and to make sound decisions in targeting resources for students, educators, and parents. Additionally, Decker discussed the need to continue to leverage higher-education partnerships for the purpose of improving education in our state.
At the OEP, a part of our mission is to “support lawmakers and educators in thoughtful decision-making in PK-12 education in the State of Arkansas,” and we believe that analyzing data is one way to do so. We enjoyed our interview with Cody, and we look forward to seeing the working with his Division in the future. We also look forward to upcoming blog posts on Arkansas’ educational data systems and how they are being used to further student achievement in our state.