Closing the home digital access gap has become a priority, as many school districts anticipate continued reliance on remote or blended learning delivery when school returns in the fall.


The first step in solving this pressing equity challenge is to conduct high-quality data collection to identify which students are impacted. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has partnered with EducationSuperHighway to develop a blueprint for how state leaders can facilitate this data collection.

RESTART & RECOVERY | Home Digital Access Data Collection:
Blueprint for State Education Leaders

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EducationSuperHighway

BACKGROUND AND CHALLENGES

When COVID-19 caused nationwide school closures in the spring of 2020, districts undertook incredible efforts to quickly transition to online learning. Many schools, recognizing that students without a device and Internet connectivity at home would be unable to participate, made a push to identify which learners needed additional supports.

While some of these approaches effectively identified the need and enabled schools to deliver timely solutions, many districts encountered challenges like low survey response rates and inaccurate responses. Also, because there was limited coordination of these efforts across school districts, the resulting data sets are inconsistent. Understanding these issues, States now have the opportunity to provide guidance to school districts that will make home digital access data collection more effective and more consistent moving forward.

WHY THIS DATA COLLECTION IS CRITICAL

Districts and States need to move from understanding the estimated percentage of students who do not have adequate home digital access to understanding specifically which students do not have access, in order to connect those students to persistent, high-speed Internet.

This information will enable States to: 

  • Understand the impact that lack of home digital access has on learning outcomes
  • Advocate to state and federal government for funding to close the digital access gap
  • Direct state resources, including funding, to districts
  • Share guidance with districts on how to use state and federal funding, including CARES Act funding, to support home Internet connectivity projects
  • Engage local Internet Service Providers to develop and implement effective, replicable solutions (e.g., assisting districts with aggregated procurement strategies)
  • Facilitate data sharing, with appropriate security safeguards, for organizations that can help to implement digital access gap solutions

Knowing which students lack home internet access and/or a dedicated learning device enables school districts to:

  • Understand the impact that lack of home digital access has on learning outcomes
  • Identify and call out the digital access gap as an educational equity issue
  • Target resources to students in need of digital access
  • Determine the most effective Internet connectivity solutions, making sure to engage with local community and business leadership for input and implementation of solutions
  • Gain leverage when seeking funding to help close the gaps

THE STATE’S ROLE

The State’s role is to create a framework for consistent data collection across districts and to guide districts on best-practice strategies. The State’s primary functions are to:


Establishing a set of common elements for collecting data about student home digital access will help school districts understand which pieces of actionable information they should be gathering. It will also help ensure that this data can be aggregated at the state and national levels with confidence.  

The following data fields were identified in collaboration with SEAs, LEAs, and industry experts. By collecting the following information about every student, administrators will be able to identify (1) whether a student has access to Internet connectivity and/or a device at home and (2) whether that access is sufficient for high-quality online learning.

Note: This recommended data framework is in the process of being aligned with the standards organizations.

Data FieldQuestionResponse Options
Digital DeviceWhat device does the student most often use to complete schoolwork at home?Chromebook

Desktop computer

Laptop computer

Tablet

Smartphone

Other

None

Device AccessIs the primary learning device a personal device or school-provided? Is the primary learning device shared with anyone else in the household?Personal - Dedicated

Personal - Shared

School Provided - Dedicated

School Provided - Shared

None

Internet Access in ResidenceCan the student access the Internet on their primary learning device at home?Yes

No

Internet Access Type in ResidenceWhat is the primary type of Internet service used at home?Fiber

Cable

DSL

Microwave

Satellite

Dial-up

Personal hotspot/smartphone School-provided hotspot

Unknown

Other

None

Internet PerformanceCan the student stream a video on their primary learning device without interruption?Yes, with no issues

Yes, but not consistent 

No

Data Standard

A next and critical step will be to codify these initial data elements into a data standard to ensure an ability to share and analyze comparable data. CCSSO will take the lead on working with existing standards bodies to facilitate the community development, vetting, and release of appropriate data standards. This work will begin with the Common Education Data Standards (CEDS), as the source of education data dictionary standardization, and expand out from there to include interoperability and implementation standards and efforts.

The home digital access data LEAs collect should be stored in a common repository that is secure, easy to update, can produce customizable reports and is readily accessible to education leaders. This data would be best captured in the SIS, which would allow for seamless aggregating and reporting back to the SEA, and integration across other student data points (e.g., demographic and academic data). This could be valuable for gleaning deeper insights into which populations are most affected and impact on learning outcomes.  

Opportunity to Engage with SIS Vendors

The spring 2020 COVID-19 school closures were unforeseeable and have necessitated short-order data collection. Moreover, LEAs are now facing aggressive timelines and will likely bump up against SIS limitations. Because the data fields recommended above are not yet built into most systems—and given that SIS vendors ordinarily require significantly more lead time to develop required changes—the LEAs may not be able to utilize their SIS for managing this data in the immediate term. In these instances, they may need to rely on ad-hoc tools like spreadsheets. SEAs are encouraged to support LEAs by engaging with the SIS vendor community to underscore the urgency of this issue and encourage them to make the needed adjustments for the 2020-2021 school year. Some states have already taken the lead on this, and CCSSO is coordinating a cross-state effort to make a collective “ask” of the SIS vendor community.   

States should promote the following best practices for schools:

  • Embed data collection into existing processes. Determining students’ home digital access status is a priority for the 2020-21 school year, and it will continue to be a concern for schools until equitable digital access is ubiquitous. To ensure comprehensive and consistent data collection, LEAs are encouraged to integrate the data-collection process into existing operations (like registration and enrollment). 
  • Infer access gaps from student engagement. If an LEA’s registration timeline does not align with the start of school, the LEA should leverage the data already available and analyze indicators of distance-learning engagement to infer which students may not have home digital access. For example, schools could identify those students who have not “attended” online learning or have not logged on to core distance-learning applications. Some schools also could analyze Internet traffic on school-provided, take-home devices to infer which students lack home connectivity. 
  • Conduct targeted outreach. After prioritizing segments of students who may not have digital access, LEAs are encouraged to conduct a targeted survey of, and direct outreach campaign to, impacted families. 

EducationSuperHighway’s Home Access Needs Assessment Playbook contains tools and resources to support school districts in these efforts. The playbook, based on best practices gathered from LEAs across the country, includes: 

  • A data collection tool 
  • A question bank for school districts (aligned with data elements outlined in this blueprint) 
  • Call scripts and email templates (available in English or Spanish) 
  • Case studies of LEAs that have successfully collected home digital access data 
  • A password-protected mapping tool that enables LEAs to develop strategic solutions, by uploading their home digital access data and overlaying available ISP options sourced from FCC Form 477 data to more accurately locate and resolve the access gaps.

STATE ACTION PLAN – PRIORITY STEPS FOR BACK TO SCHOOL

1 – Send a memo to districts emphasizing the importance and urgency of collecting students’ home digital access data, and continue communicating guidance. Many states will want to simultaneously offer guidelines for districts on how to report this data to the State. 

Memo Example: Indiana Department of Education

2 – Work with the Student Information System (SIS) vendors in your state to incorporate the students’ home digital access data fields recommended in this blueprint into their SIS software. CCSSO is helping to coordinate cross-state asks to the SIS community. 

CCSSO Letter SIS Vendors

3 – Provide districts with resources to help them complete data collection.

Digital Bridge K-12: Home Access Needs Assessment Playbook

CONTACT

For more information on the blueprint or our Home Access Needs Assessment Playbook, please contact us.