Customer Spotlight: Idaho Department of Education

Posted by Dave MoyerO

July 31, 2020


The Idaho Department of Education creates a new kind of report card to give context to data, spark conversations, and generate student improvement.

Karlynn Laraway is the Director of Assessment and Accountability for the Idaho Department of Education (DOE). Karlynn and Tembo (now Hoonuit) began their partnership with a project grant from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to create a report card aligned to the states accountability system that didn’t have a summative rating.  The goal was to develop and scale  the reporting, which eventually became IdahoSchools.org.

Before they teamed up, sharing of data and information for Idaho DOE wasn’t useful or accessible. They would publish a list of schools and test results in spreadsheets. While they were data rich, they were still information poor. There was no context for what the information meant, how it could be used, and lacked direction for policy makers to enact a system of improvement. According to Karlynn, “data in the absence of any context just isn’t useful data.” 

Every school is required to have a report card, but Karlynn saw the opportunity to create something that would better serve the needs of all education stakeholders. That’s when Tembo stepped in to partner with Karlynn to create IdahoSchools.org. This report card was created to comply with Every Student Succeeds Act, , and meet policy makers’ feedback about what they wanted to see in a data-rich dashboard of information. 

Importance of Transparency: Creating Conversation

The importance of creating a new way to report rests in the need for transparency. Karlynn recognizes that education is one of the largest expenses in terms of state’s dollars and with that comes the desire to show that the Idaho DOE is a good steward of that investment. Karlynn saw the opportunity for IdahoSchools.org to be more than a report card, and instead become a catalyst for conversation which could then create a pathway to improvement. 

Hoonuit understands how important community engagement is, and our expertise is all about putting complicated data in a context that parents and other stakeholders can easily understand.  From local community members and school boards, to how you want to represent your school to the public, transparent reporting drives those conversations. Tembo created a way for Idaho  to make that information accessible and spark the discussions that needed to happen. 

Communicating Key Metrics

One of the biggest challenges she faced with school accountability and assessment data was creating a solution that met the needs of stakeholders when some of those needs were conflicting. During the development of IdahoSchools.org they made sure to seek feedback at every step along the way to make sure they stayed on course. 

Karlynn acknowledges that achievement is a key metric, but above all student improvement is the most important to her. Through the partnership and creation of the new report card they’ve improved on this metric, but are still looking forward to doing more, especially in terms of how it “gets used at the local level to make changes in classrooms in the state, to help close gaps in underperforming or underprivileged groups.”

Accountability & Reporting During a Pandemic

When asked what the future looks like, Karlynn spoke to the new challenges in data, reporting, and accountability that the COVID-19 pandemic has created. Unfortunately, there are no straightforward answers. As states  adjust to the changes in reporting and data availability, Karlynn sees four different challenges to address: 

  • How are we going to report the data we have and the context?
  • How do we help schools that have already been identified for improvement work forward, and then how do we identify their improvements? 
  • What do we do with our accountability system for 2021? Do we reset? How does this gap year affect it?
  • Every state is facing the challenge and hurdle of moving forward beyond 2021 and there isn’t going to be a one size fits all strategy.

While states tackle these challenges Karlynn takes a positive outlook on it seeing the break in data as an opportunity to reflect on what is working and what isn’t working in  the accountability system. She believes this is the right time to pause, reflect, and consider their approach to make sure their reporting is optimized for their communities.

Looking forward to new possibilities

When discussing her experience with the Tembo team Karlynn praised their professionalism and care to which they approached education data. Their willingness to work the problem and help reach the team’s bold goals with optimism was greatly appreciated. When Tembo joined Hoonuit Karlynn was impressed with how it increased possibilities of what they could do, and she believes that the partnership is critical to their success going forward. 

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