Release Date: September 28, 2023
Guests: Alissa Trollinger, Arizona State Director of Special Education, and Leah Voorhies, Utah State Director of Special Education
Deep canyons. Soaring mountains. Red rocks. Neighboring Utah and Arizona have plenty of landscape in common, but what about their data landscape? What role does data play in their state initiatives and priorities now and in the future? On this episode of A Date with Data, host Amy Bitterman takes it all in as she concludes her conversation with guests Arizona State Director of Special Education Alissa Trollinger and Utah State Director of Special Education Leah Voorhies. Don't miss part two of our guided tour through these states’ epic data quality landscapes.
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00:00:01.62 >> You're listening to "A Date with Data" with your host, Amy Bitterman.
00:00:07.45 >> Hey. It's Amy, and I am so excited to be hosting "A Date with Data." I'll be chatting with state and district special education staff who, just like you, are dealing with IDEA data every day.
00:00:19.60 >> "A Date with Data" is brought to you by the IDEA Data Center.
00:00:24.94 >> Welcome to part two of my conversation with Leah Voorhies, who is the Assistant Superintendent of Student Support with the Utah State Board of Education, and Alissa Trollinger, who is the Deputy Associate Superintendent for Exceptional Student Services with the Arizona Department of Education. We are going to pick up where we left off last time as they continue to share their states' stories about how data play an important role in their initiatives and priorities.
00:00:56.23 We've talked about a number of things I think that are really exciting and interesting. What's something else that you're really excited about that's going on right now?
00:01:06.54 >> Well, we have finally, I would say within the last 6 months, been able to get some traction with our School Improvement. I'm really envious of Leah's ... I'm not envious. Let me take that back. I was going to say I'm envious of Leah's oversight of School Improvement. I'm not. I don't want to do that. But I am envious of the relationship that she's been able to create because I think we've really struggled with that in the time that I've been state director. And we have a new superintendent of public instruction who started in January, and there's been some change at the agency leadership level, and with that we have been able to start working with School Improvement to try and work across systems to make change happen. So that's really exciting. I think that gives us some opportunity to scale up structures that we already have in place to do root cause analysis and to support improvement in literacy achievement in particular. Our state systematic improvement plan is geared around K-3 literacy achievement, and it's already aligned to our state's Move On When Reading initiative, which basically is, once any child has hit third grade, we want them to be able to be literate. Aligning our asset literacy goal with the Move On When Reading initiative has meant that we have access to a lot more benchmark assessment data than we had previously. In Arizona, it's not a requirement that schools submit periodic updates on their data ...
00:02:52.76 >> Mm-hmm.
00:02:53.09 >> ... on their children's achievement, and so we've been able to leverage the Move On When Reading requirements in order to help us understand what's happening with our root cause analyses. We've tied our SSIP goals to our programmatic monitoring system, so again, that's a way for us leverage participation and to ensure that we're able to do deep dives and that the LEAs are committed to this work. But now I think with the relationship that we're forming with School Improvement, we might be able to scale up some of these efforts. I think one of the challenges for us is to do exactly what Utah has already started, is to really dive into the data and look at it at school level, so I think that that's one of the things that we're going to be building into our dashboards.
00:03:42.10 >> Great, and you have Leah to turn to for ...
00:03:45.04 >> I do.
00:03:46.65 >> ... what they've been doing and learn from them. Leah, what about you in Utah? What's something going on that you're really excited about?
00:03:56.57 >> The work that we are doing across School Improvement and Special Education is really exciting to me. This year, our team ... so an individual from the Special Ed team and an individual from the School Improvement team coached five schools. After we did the regression analysis of schools that were including students more than the state average and that had better or worse outcomes, we then factored in the schools in the state who had been identified for targeted support and improvement only for students with disabilities. So if they had multiple student groups, we pulled them out of the calculation ...
00:04:47.92 >> Mm-hmm.
00:04:48.14 >> And so we only ended up with seven schools, oh, except that we also added in the LEAs who had high risk in our results-driven accountability matrix. So the LEA had to have high risk. The school had to be identified for TSI only for students with disabilities, and they had to have better than ... They had to be including students with disabilities at least at the state average ...
00:05:13.17 >> Mm-hmm.
00:05:14.48 >> And that only yielded seven schools across the state, which is fascinating. We have almost 1,200 schools. So we contacted every one of them, and we said, "Hey, we'd like to help you improve outcomes for students with disabilities, which will help you exit TSI status, and we'd like to help you do that compliantly so you help your LEA improve your results-driven accountability risk related to compliance and related to indicator three." And so five of them took us up on it, and we have been coaching five schools across the state this year, and the major focus has been having them look at their data from different perspectives, having them look at any and all program improvement plans, school improvement plans that they have because they have multiple at the LEA and/or the school level, creating one comprehensive plan with prioritized action steps, 90-day action steps, and then bringing to bear all of the resources at the state level that we can to be able to support them, professional learning, technical assistance, special grants sometime if they need it for personnel, that kind of thing, and it's really exciting. We have ... We are forming really good relationships, and we have other schools that are interested in participating this year, and we're looking forward to the School Improvement results that will be coming out in the fall to see if these schools are making enough progress that they would be able to exit next year or ... They get 4 years, but it would be great if they could exit sooner rather than later.
00:07:15.32 >> Yeah, and then you could, yeah, see those kind of hopefully earlier successes, too ...
00:07:20.50 >> Yeah.
00:07:20.69 >> ... and be able to start ...
00:07:21.43 >> Hopefully there's a trend, yeah ...
00:07:22.99 >> Yes!
00:07:23.68 >> ... that it's making a difference, and then if other schools are interested, our ... The current work that we're doing internally is, how can we scale this up?
00:07:31.84 >> Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
00:07:32.47 >> What is our capacity to scale it up?
00:07:35.28 >> And this is beyond Special Education. This is ...
00:07:38.40 >> Right, yeah.
00:07:38.91 >> ... across the ...
00:07:40.03 >> Yeah.
00:07:40.13 >> Wow.
00:07:40.31 >> We're calling it Integrated Coaching because it's School Improvement and Special Ed, are integrating the practices of the two different sections of our agency.
00:07:54.88 >> Yeah. Wow! I've been hearing, I feel like, more and more states are sort of trying to go more in that direction of not having it also siloed, but if there are struggling schools and districts, and there's all these different requirements for corrective action and those sorts of things, it really should kind of not be done in isolation. It should be because all of these issue and challenges and things going on are all intertwined. So it just makes sense to kind of bring everyone together to try to tackle those issues. So that's really neat to hear about.
00:08:31.84 >> It does, and it's been really interesting to look at the leadership level of the LEAs because when we started, we ... The School Improvement director and I, we contacted the LEA Special Education director and the Title I director and said, "Hey, we have this idea." And then they all contacted at least an assistant superintendent.
00:08:53.35 >> Mm-hmm.
00:08:53.60 >> In one of the five, we have the superintendent that participates in the meetings. So there's one of the side benefits, not a side effect, but a side benefit, is that the title office in the LEAs is really learning about results-driven accountability and learning about Special Education compliance and learning about the SPP and the APR, and the Special Education director ... Although we have tried to provide technical assistance to Special Education directors about every year about the schools that are identified for TSI ...
00:09:32.99 >> Mm-hmm.
00:09:33.23 >> Every single year we provide them information. They don't really get it. But the ones that we're working with now are getting it because they're really diving into, how was this school identified for TSI, and what do they have to do to exit?
00:09:49.48 >> Mm-hmm.
00:09:50.25 >> So that's been a really good benefit. Of course, it's a very, very small sample size, but we hope we'll increase it.
00:09:57.68 >> Yeah.
00:09:58.50 >> Well, and, Amy, I'll say this is really exciting to listen to, and, side note, this is one of the nice things about working with really, really talented State Special Education Directors as colleagues because you learn a lot, and you take a lot of notes from people who are doing good work. That's exciting to hear. Everything you've just described, Leah, is exactly where we want to go. I think the struggle for us is helping all of the parties at the leadership level, both internally and externally, understand that Special Education isn't the job of Special Education alone because we keep having to remind folks that our students are general education students first and that these efforts to support with professional development and technical assistance need to come ... We need to come together to provide that. There's a tendency internally, I think, and externally to shuffle off that work to Special Education only, and so I feel like we're really trying to help model that at the agency level so that we can get that work at the local level done properly. And the fact that you're overseeing that really, really helps, I think, manage resources and ensure that the work is done in an integrated way, so that's very, very interesting and hopeful for me, that maybe that's a place we can get to.
00:11:22.84 >> Yeah.
00:11:23.11 >> And the hope for me is that it actually makes a difference.
00:11:26.61 >> Sure, sure.
00:11:27.71 >> And then having those stories and being able to share those out within the state but then also talking to your districts, too, in Arizona and showing them, "Look at what this kind of collaboration, how this really helped improve results," will kind of be the carrot.
00:11:47.34 >> I know. It's exciting. We expect big things from Utah so that we can turn around and do it.
00:11:52.14 >> Yeah. Uh-huh.
00:11:52.81 >> They can lead the way and then ...
00:11:54.25 >> I do, too!
00:11:56.76 >> So what about plans for the future? What do you have coming up? Alissa, do you want to start that off?
00:12:03.29 >> Sure. Again, our big plan at this moment, I actually have a meeting today to figure it out, is to redesign or reorganize our internal structure to be ... to provide professional development and technical assistance in a more data-responsive way. I feel like if we can set our internal structure in leadership and personnel and data practices, then we're not going to be ... We're trying to get out of a spray-and-pray model where we hope that we're hitting the right marks. We actually want to use our data, plan our ... and plan our resources efficiently and in a targeted way. And I'm sure that that may sound simple to people who are listening, but it really does take a lot of effort, and in order to even get to this place, we've had to make sure that our data is right.
00:13:03.39 >> Mm-hmm.
00:13:04.00 >> And so that's really exciting work, and it's kind of challenging work because it means we are asking people to rethink the way that they've offered professional development. We may be cutting contracts with long-standing projects that have meant a lot to us over time, but if the data shows that they're not making an impact, we need to move forward with things that will make an impact.
00:13:29.07 >> Yeah.
00:13:30.23 >> So that's a lot of the internal work that we're hoping will help us focus our efforts on increasing achievement, and that's going to be a lot for us over the next couple of years.
00:13:43.31 >> Mm-hmm. Yeah, that's a big chunk to bite off, but ultimately, yeah, for the best and really being able to use that data at all levels for the improvement.
00:13:56.55 >> Yes.
00:13:56.92 >> Great.
00:13:57.09 >> Yeah, that's really courageous work, so as long as I'm here, Alissa, I'm your cheerleader.
00:14:04.74 >> Thank you so much, Leah.
00:14:07.55 >> In Utah, we are ... We're really looking at ... internally at making sure that as EDPass is implemented that we don't have the timeliness and lack-of-accuracy issues that we have had in the past. And it's not consistent issues, so it's not like we can say, "Here's the thing that we've done wrong." I think a lot of it has been related to personnel changes, and we have a consistent team now, and so we're hoping that that will make a difference for the next couple of years. So internally that's one of our big goals. Externally, we are ... We will be expanding the integrated coaching that we are doing. So I will be reporting to the schools that, in year two ... I just got the data recently from our statistician about which schools are doing better than expected and which schools are not doing as well as we would expect, and I'll start meeting with leadership teams here in the next couple weeks to talk to principals and leadership teams, Special Ed directors, Title directors about how we, at State, can support improvement when it's needed, and those teams that are doing better than expected, what they're doing that we can add to our list of promising practices that we are then going to be very systematically sharing with the rest of our state. And so we're putting together the dissemination tools, the systematic dissemination tools, to be able to advertise those bright spots across our state, those promising practices, and to be able to provide the tools that other schools need, putting together a systematic dissemination plan so that any school in our state who is interested, whether or not they are doing well or they need to improve, because students with disabilities, proficiency is low everywhere. Even for the schools that are doing better than expected, it's still not good.
00:16:36.10 >> Yeah.
00:16:36.71 >> So every school in the state would be able to access information about how to implement the practices that we have found are working across our state, and so that's our next step. And in doing that, we have to have the data available and in a format that anyone in the school can make sense of it and can go, "Oh, this is where my class, my students, the students that I provide services for, the students that I'm responsible for, fit into this story, and this is what I can do to work on improving outcomes."
00:17:23.74 >> Mm-hmm. Yeah, really making it so that it's understandable to everybody and that they'll ... It's great to see things that are working and what's going well, but taking that next step to really then be able to connect it to themselves personally and what their context is ...
00:17:42.78 >> Exactly.
00:17:43.32 >> ... is a whole other, yeah, thing. So that's ...
00:17:46.61 >> And it's interesting, I'll just state. So I've ... Like I said, I've been going around the state talking to people about their data, and I tell them, "You gave us this data. Then we analyzed it. Now I'm giving it back to you," and it's interesting to me how many people say they don't believe it.
00:18:04.40 >> Yeah.
00:18:04.56 >> Yes.
00:18:05.33 >> So many people say, "Oh, I don't believe that." I'm like, "Oh. Well, you gave it to me."
00:18:12.30 >> Or they make an assumption that we've done something to it.
00:18:15.45 >> Something to it, yeah.
00:18:16.16 >> Mm-hmm. Yeah.
00:18:17.84 >> I would agree.
00:18:18.97 >> Yeah. It makes you feel like, well, they're not necessarily looking at their data themselves before it gets submitted, and that might be an important step and help convince them that, "This is really the data that you gave us." So, yeah, that is something ...
00:18:34.30 [ Chatter ]
00:18:34.30 >> And also I don't think they want to take responsibility for the fact that students with disabilities are not doing well.
00:18:40.30 >> Yeah.
00:18:41.29 >> Even the ones that are doing better than others are not doing well. There's a huge gap, and everyone is responsible for that gap.
00:18:50.60 >> Yep. Yeah. They don't want to believe it really is true.
00:18:53.99 >> I would have to agree with Leah on that, as we've really over the last couple of years done the ... I call it the SPP/APR data visualization with people, the data conversations. I think it's been shocking for stakeholders, parents and schools to understand how poorly students with disabilities are doing. And I think that the struggle always is in helping LEA general education and administrators understand that students with disabilities are gen ed students first and that they need to invested in in ensuring that they get instruction and services just like any other child. Even internally I've heard, "What is Special Education going to do about that?" And my response back when I hear that is, "What are we going to do about that? Because they're also you're kids."
00:19:53.29 >> Yeah, agreed.
00:19:55.97 >> Well, it sounds like there's a lot going on and a lot you have planned, and this has been such an interesting conversation. I've loved hearing all about your stories and the great work you've been doing, so thank you both so much for joining.
00:20:11.44 >> Thank you for having us.
00:20:13.02 >> Thank you. This has been fun.
00:20:15.35 >> It has been.
00:20:17.32 >> To access podcast resources, submit questions related to today's episode or if you have ideas for future topics, we'd love to hear from you. The links are in the episode content, or connect with us via the podcast page on the IDC website at ideadata.org.