A Date with Data
Nothing for Granite: New Hampshire Takes the Long View on Indicator 8 Data Quality
January 26, 2023
Sometimes an up-close perspective requires us to step back and take in the long view first. That’s what happened in New Hampshire where Mary Lane, Education Consultant with the New Hampshire Department of Education’s Bureau of Special Education Support, and Michelle Lewis, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Parent Information Center, were on a mission to improve the quality of their state’s Indicator 8 data. In this episode of A Date with Data, host Amy Bitterman learns more about how their process of capturing the close-up family perspective first required them to step back to consider the “why” behind this indicator.
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### Episode Transcript ###

00:00:01.52  >> You're listening to "A Date with Data," with your host, Amy Bitterman.

00:00:07.34  >> Hey. It's Amy, and I'm 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.

00:00:19.50  >> "A Date with Data" is brought to you by the IDEA Data Center.

00:00:25.06  >> Hello, and welcome to "A Date with Data." Today, I am joined by Mary Lane, who is an Education Consultant with the New Hampshire Department of Education's Bureau of Special Education Support, and Michelle Lewis, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Parent Information Center. Mary and Michelle are here to talk about the great work they've been doing over the last few years to improve the quality of their Indicator 8 data, and that really started by stepping back and considering the why behind this indicator. Thank you, both, so much for being here. To get us started, could you each just share a little bit about yourselves. Mary, why don't you go ahead and go first?

00:01:06.00  >> Sure. So I've been working in the New Hampshire Department of Education for over 20 years, and along with Michelle, we've been working quite closely engaging families and schools together in building better partnerships.

00:01:21.79  >> Great. Thanks, Mary. Michelle, how about you?

00:01:24.67  >> So I've been working at the Parent Information Center for over 20 years, and I'm very committed, very passionate about family, school and community partnerships, and that really drives the work that I do. I have two children: one who's 16 and one who's 18. And my 18-year-old has a disability, and that really propelled me into the work, and, again, as Mary said, we've been working together for a number of years, and our most recent work, we're happy to share today.

00:01:57.59  >> Great. So let's just start out at the beginning, and why did you decide to do this work around Indicator 8? What was the impetus?

00:02:10.01  >> Sure. I'll start. So as an education consultant, back in 2004, many of us in every state were really struggling, wrapping out heads around Indicator 8, the Family Survey. And the reason is, we were learning some indicators were performance or results indicators, and some were compliance, and it felt as though this indicator was something very special. It was something that probably needed to be addressed across all indicators, and that said, from the very beginning, we knew we needed strong technical assistance. We knew that what we had been doing, where we based our survey around the monitoring process was not enough, and so what I was immediately felt was being helped by Michelle, who I'm going to ask her to kind of talk about it, was the strong feeling that the Parent Information Center in New Hampshire has about their responsibility about this work.

00:03:45.39  >> Yeah. I feel like we've had a long history of working together around Indicator 8, as Mary talked about, and I would say the Department of Ed really has engaged all stakeholders from the beginning in this work, and Mary highlighted some pieces about that. We really wanted to be responsive. My view of the state was that they wanted to be responsive to families, to school districts and to community organizations. The work right now that was started last year and continues, really, it was a perfect storm in terms of the why for us. The entire state is doing work around family engagement, in particular, with preschool development grant work, looking at early childhood governance and really leadership at the state level, including the governor, including the Department of Education is very invested in family ... I should say across all departments at the state level, who is very invested in family engagement, and so again, it was this perfect storm, the department's dedication from the beginning to really look at this indicator.

00:05:01.16  >> Yes, Michelle. I agree. One of the things, though, I'm learning on this journey is that trust and respect from families is so important, and that being it's because many times, bureaus or departments of education really haven't been at the best game of really putting themselves out about engaging families, and in particular, it really has felt many times as though we get to a certain level, and then it backs down, even when you have the leadership. And one of the things that has ... I see a lot of patience from the local level and from the organizations that support families is understanding how hard it is for us to really make sure we maintain a high standard of this work.

00:05:59.63  >> Yeah, and I had been fortunate enough to be involved with you all in moving this work forward, and that's been so exciting and can definitely attest to the fact that really, you are bringing parents to the table in really amazing ways. So can you share a little bit more about what that work has been like with the parent, with your stakeholder group and how, Mary, you from the state and other from the state have been working together with Michelle and the Parent Center to move it forward?

00:06:28.98  >> Absolutely. So from the beginning, our commissioner, Commissioner Frank Edelblut, has been disappointed in our overall response rate, and that said, he actually reached out to the Department of Education to ask for help, to ask for really technical assistance, and that's where Amy was able to help along with Joanna Bivens, with regards to telling us, "It's okay to start where we're at, and it's okay for me as an education consultant, who's been doing this for many years, to step back and listen and actually be on equal level as a stakeholder." That took a lot of me trusting that I could actually do this and that the districts and the families would actually see that as a way of earning respect.

00:07:29.44  >> Yeah, absolutely.

00:07:31.49  >> I think that was a really important piece, bringing in IDC to work with us at the core team level. When I'm saying core team, I mean the Department of Ed, myself and then the IDC folks to help us create a process to really dig in to this work. It was really key for us.

00:07:52.99  >> Exactly, and I will actually add to that by saying: Without the help of technical assistance, we wouldn't be in the place we're at. And what I mean by that is, we kept saying we need buy-in from the local level, from both the families and the schools. But until we actually had them all come together with equal voice, which meant a lot of organizing every meeting, setting goals, addressing why we are here, and getting everybody to be able to take the time to absorb it and really actually maybe being frustrated in some of it, but actually coming to the realization that if we're not all in this together, it doesn't work.

00:08:41.09  >> And I think for us, in designing this process, we really looked at representation from across the state, both of families and with school districts in terms of looking at our geographic representation and our cultural representation and really try to design something that would be representative and to kind of move us forward.

00:09:07.42  >> I agree, Michelle, and one of the things that I saw happening was the fact that people actually were able to voice what they felt that they probably weren't ever going to feel strong enough to do, such as, some parents said, I understand from a school point of view that some of this is hard, and it might be confusing, but we as parent can handle this. We just want to make sure that we are able and have the permission to do it. And then from that, after several meetings, you actually saw folks working together and really deliberating together and coming up with better decisions of what we believed was the definition of how families were engaged and schools were facilitating in the special education process. It's so interesting because every day, I look at something, and I went back to looking at the state performance plan and the indicators and looking at the tool kit, and in the definition of Indicator A, at one point, it listed all the various levels by which we should be thinking about how families are engaged: written prior notice, the eligibility, making sure that all the laws ... But in the end of the day, do we ever get to really talk about how we partner together, and do we ever really feel as though that's really helping us with addressing why we're doing it, how we're doing it, how folks were feeling and whether the results were things that we were really feeling was actually happening?

00:10:49.54  >> Yeah, well, hopefully resonates with others listening and thinking about your Indicator 8 and bringing in stakeholders to be part of that process that I, again, was fortunate enough to be part of with you all in New Hampshire and kind of having that series of meetings, bringing in the parent and other stakeholders to really talk through, why do we collect this data? What are we going to do with it? What does it mean to have schools facilitate parent engagement? Really starting from the beginning with all of that.

00:11:20.82  >> I think, Amy, from my perspective, another key piece that IDC worked with Mary and I initially on and then the whole group is really designing a process. So I think you had us really think through, what were we trying to accomplish? And really, we were being very responsive to the family, the district and the state's needs Mary mentioned. The commissioner was disappointed in our response rates and really wanted to look at that, and families expressed survey fatigue. Our survey for Indicator 8 was quite lengthy, and so we also realized that local administrators, knowledge of Indicator 8 wasn't perhaps what it needed to be, so we saw that as something we needed to work on, and IDC helped us design a four-part meeting series with a focused goal, which was to shorten the survey, which was really to define our why, really to look at the definition of schools' facilitation of parent engagement or parent involvement and really use that indicator tool kit in our work, and that was, to me, really key because it gave us a framework in which to work. It gave us a framework in which to engage stakeholders with a very specific purpose. It gave us a framework in which we knew what our outcome was, but we didn't necessarily know how we would get there. And so it allowed us to really engage from the beginning as a group and really build some relationships over that period of time, really figure out, what is it that we were trying to achieve?

00:13:21.71  >> I totally agree, and one of the things I'm learning right now ... Because Indicator 8 is part of a larger survey called the 603, which is our area code, New Hampshire Family Survey, and it actually includes ... It's about families and engaging families, but it includes school level, community level. It's a lengthy survey. What it really did, our work, did was open the door and pave the way for others in the department to engage the public around the purpose of the survey, engaging them on their opinion about the survey, giving them a voice. Our next round of looking at the larger survey is taking the model of what we did around Indicator 8 and moving it forward with the larger community. And it's interesting for me to be able to see it happening in reality, so it actually has made marked improvement about the way we are going to, in the future, work around this 603 survey. It also is bringing people not only just to know more about Indicator 8 but to ask the really critical questions around, how do I support it? I need work. I need training in this. We need tools. We need the ability to really model that we are working together, and instead of just a school saying, "Here's a survey. Take it," it's around, "This is what we worked at, and this is what we believe in," and I think it actually gives it much more realistic and optimistic opportunities for families and schools to really come together and help improve outcomes for the children, which is what it's all about.

00:15:22.51  >> Yeah. That's so exciting to hear that you're going to be using this model and expanding it within the department. Are there certain areas that you thought, through this process, worked particularly well that you want to mention? And maybe any that you think you would like to improve on for next time?

00:15:40.62  >> Well, for the first time ever, I've been able to really be an active participant in working with the local level around a tough, challenging topic and feeling as though everybody was able to have a voice and get something that was quality to our communities around helping each other, through making better outcomes for our children.

00:16:08.75  >> I agree, Mary, having been working with you for a period of time for quite a long time. Typically, you've had to lead these groups, and I think having your voice as a part of it, because you're coming at it from ... Throughout the process, we talked about that there's the state perspective. There's the local perspective. There's the family perspective, and we wanted to make sure we captured all of that, and I think that this process allowed us to do that, and I don't think we would've been able to do that without working with IDC and having their support to bring these meetings together. I think that having ... I think I mentioned this before about having ... Basically, it was a four-part meeting. We were going to ... what our achievement, what the goal was. I think having it set up with the end in mind and created a plan to get there over the course of the four meetings was really important. I've been on groups before that have been going through the work and sometimes feels like it drags on. This process was ... Don't get me wrong. Mary mentioned it's tough work. We didn't always agree, but the point was is that we were able to work through things. People sometimes has to do some prework and do some follow-up in between, but there was a process with an end in mind, and we were able to meet that goal and were able to use this similar structure in the future.

00:17:47.78  >> And actually, Michelle and I continue to work on other projects such as: We're working with the National AEM Center for Accessibility of Educational Materials. That too is engaging a stakeholder group. I feel as though our knowledge, our experience and our confidence in being able to do a job that actually asks you to listen, listen, listen, be disappointed, be confused and yet go back to square one of why we actually are doing it, what do we really believe in? And moving the work beyond those barriers. It is very developmental in every process, and we've talked a long time around stakeholder and meeting together and convening for outcomes, but it really felt different this time for me, and it's made me look at things different with different lens.

00:18:46.53  >> Yeah, I agree completely with what both of you said. It felt so good when we were able to achieve that goal of: Okay, we've revised the survey based completely, really, on stakeholder input, and now we have this better-quality survey to move ahead with. So it was a really amazing process, and we achieved that goal at the end, which made it all worth it. And the work continues. In fact, what is coming next for you in this Indicator 8 world?

00:19:18.01  >> Well, as Michelle meets quite often with the Department of Education and the Bureau of Special Education, and not just around special education, but in general for families, and the fact of the matter is, I see her ability to be able to really have that equal voice. I see her confidence in being able to say, "Now that we've accomplished this, we need to make sure that" ... See, we've built some really nice technical assistance model. Now, we have to actually implement it across the department, across other organizations. We've always tried to do that, but it feels as though we've got something in place that's local, the state, and organizations feel as though they've built it together, and so what we're really looking at is, as we have actually talked about and listened to, we have recommendations for the department. We are responding to those recommendations, and the fact of the matter is, the department said, "Yes. You're right. We do have to engaged families, but we also have to make sure that within our work that we have a process in place that's built from the local level up to the state level." And so that's what we have first is. I think we were able to convince the department: take a step back, look at all the things under the hood, making sure all is compartmentalized to be able to make sure that it really does look like it's an entity that means business. Families are needing to be engaged, and Bureau of Department of Education really needs to continue the work.

00:21:14.93  >> And we are already ... So the four-part series was last year. The department has already engaged the stakeholder group again this year to look at the data, to look at why sharing the data is important to get feedback on ... We have a dashboard that displays the data statewide and per district, and so they've engaged the stakeholders, and we have all taken a look at that and provided some feedback. As we go into the spring for the next survey administration, the department has been soliciting feedback in terms of how we could market the survey, to look at representativeness, to look at survey response rate, and what do we need to do around education in the communities about what Indicator 8 is in terms of, essentially, why? Why would you want to respond to this survey? What is the point of completing it for families? Like the "What's in it for me?" So the fact that this stakeholder group was wanting to come back together to look at the data and to move this forward is a testament to what we had done last year and really helped spring us in to the next survey administration.

00:22:42.19  >> I really like what you said, Michelle, because I will be honest with you, and speaking with the commissioner and the leadership around the 603 survey, I was able to actually say, "In looking at your dashboard, we have comments from families and from schools that ... What we're seeing being displayed doesn't really make a lot of difference for us." It's not what we need. We need this. And so ... And for the first time, I really feel as though we actually asked folks about what they were seeing and actually had data people on the call to be able to realize, "Oh, what we thought was so shiny and nice and cool," meant nothing to families and schools. And that we needed to make the change. So in saying that, I think it's getting people to understand what we think we're engaging may not be. And what we need to do to get better at that and also feeling that everybody can have a voice, including the department, and so as we move forward, really want to make sure that we have the opportunity for our folks in the Bureau of Special Education, the folks in all of our title programs. Schools have the opportunity to go through this similar experience, and what the stakeholder group said is, yes, it's time to do that.

00:24:10.79  >> Great. A lot of good things, and this work is going to keep on going in different directions, but I really commend you all on how you were able to bring the stakeholders together and really meaningfully engage them and take their feedback and really incorporate it into this work, and I know you'll continue doing that moving forward.

00:24:31.93  >> And, Amy, I want to say that the way, the manner by which you were able to work with us made a difference, and I saw people really respond and respect that, yes, we have to look at tough things in front of us, and that we all could use some listening, and we call could change, and I would invite anyone, any state to really have that opportunity to do it, so we really appreciate the change you've made in New Hampshire.

00:25:10.42  >> Well, thank you for that. I appreciate it. It's been fun work. I really enjoy doing it and hope we can continue working together. Thank you, both, so much for being on and sharing your story of this Indicator 8 journey that we've been going on, and that will, I know, just keep on going. So thank you.

00:25:29.36  >> Thank you.

00:25:30.37  >> Thank you.

00:25:32.59  >> 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.