A Date with Data
Dynamic Data Duo: Two Data Managers Look Back and Move Forward
January 11, 2024
The turn of a new year is the perfect moment to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going next. We might even wish to share with others a few of the things we've learned along the way. On this inaugural 2024 installment of A Date with Data, we’re doing just that as host Amy Bitterman sits down with Amy Patterson, data manager with the Kentucky of Department of Education, and Alisha Fewkes, data manager with the Idaho Department of Education, to contemplate lessons learned and to offer a word or two of guidance to newcomers to the field.
Reach out to us if you want to access Podcast resources, submit questions related to episodes, or share ideas for future topics. We’d love to hear from you!

You can contact us via the Podcast page on the IDC website at https://ideadata.org/.

### 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 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.

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

00:00:24.87  >> Hello. Welcome to "A Date with Data." On this episode, I am joined by two data managers. We have Amy Patterson from the Kentucky Department of Education and Alisa Fewkes from the Idaho State Department of Education. Both Amy and Alisa have been in their role for a number of years, and they're going to be reflecting on their experiences and also sharing some lessons that they've learned over time and insights that they have for newer state staff. Can each of you tell me how long you've been your state's data manager and maybe also a little bit about your responsibility since we know that a lot of different tasks and initiatives fall under being a data manager, and that can really vary a lot from state to state, what you're responsible for? So love to hear what you do in each of your states.

00:01:14.39  >> Sure. So my name is Amy Patterson, and I am the Part-B Data Manager in Kentucky, and I've been in this role for about 8 1/2 years. Some of my responsibilities include pulling data from our statewide student information system as well as getting some data from the districts directly. And then I review the data, format the data, and then I give it to our effects coordinator, and she's the one that actually submits the data. I also do a lot of training to LEAs on how to enter data and how to review their data and so that we get reporting ... quality data reported back to us. And I do the data for the SPP/APR, but I as much as not responsible for writing the SPP/APR or the SSIP.

00:02:05.67  >> Got you. Okay. Thanks, Amy. How about you, Alisa?

00:02:08.78  >> Hi. I'm Alisa Fewkes. I am the Data and Reporting Coordinator for Idaho, and I have a lot of similarities to Amy. I've been in my position for right about 8-ish years. I do work directly with LEAs to provide support on their data quality for especially child count and then those bigger reporting areas, program exit, all the way through. So I can be contacted by our LEAs to kind of go down those rabbit holes of data and reporting coding. I also provide support through doing trainings, working with teams on data quality issues, figuring out, can we ... more data and reporting plans that they can consider, those root causes to go through and look at all of their data and information. We always provide a regional training every year that I'm part of, which goes around like five different locations around the state and go through root causes analysis. And then I am also the lead for SPP/APR, both on data, writing, submission. Thankfully, as Amy said, don't do the SSIP ...

00:03:41.57  >> Mm-hmm.

00:03:41.78  >> ... so very glad about that. We have other folks working on that information. And then I work directly with our IT team for pulling data for our EDFacts reporting, so do a lot of work with them. If we're seeing any reporting errors as we go through the submission, I troubleshoot with them trying to figure out what's going on.

00:04:05.47  >> Mm-hmm.

00:04:06.11  >> And so a lot of direct interaction, and most of the reason for that is actually because I've pushed for it ...

00:04:14.62  >> Hmm.

00:04:15.32  >> ... for my position. I really want to be more hands-on as opposed to just having my data come in and not knowing what's going on with it. So I really appreciate that team members have been willing to let me be involved and that I have a good relationship with our IT team who's involved in all of that data collection and processes.

00:04:40.51  >> Hmm. Thank you both, and what you were just talking about, Alisa, I think kind of folds into the first question I had, which is, how has your role evolved over time? And it sounds like maybe things have changed somewhat. I'm sure they have for both of you both in terms of what's going on in your state and the context and other staff that are there as well as SPP/APR changes, EDFacts changes. So, Alisa, do you want to kick us off just saying a little bit how things have changed since you started about 8 years ago and until now?

00:05:13.99  >> Yeah, sure. So when I first came in, there was a lot of processes being run without interaction of the Part-B Data Manager, which, again, I just wanted to be a lot more hands-on. I like knowing.

00:05:31.76  >> Mm-hmm ...

00:05:32.26  >> So ...

00:05:33.23  >> ... what's going on.

00:05:34.60  >> Yeah, so I really work to build up those relationships and team interactions across our different divisions, so whether it was with IT or assessment, those different folks to make sure that when data processes were being considered for changes that they were really, "Oh. We need to bring Alisa in on this conversation." So it wasn't like that special ed was outside of that conversation. It was automatically, "Oh. We need to make sure that we're including those folks, and I'm right in there with them." And that was a big change when I came in. That was very much a, "Oh. Oh, yeah. We didn't talk to special ed. maybe we should do that."

00:06:31.80  >> Mm-hmm.

00:06:32.67  >> It's just a regular part of the process, which I think is great. And again, I just like knowing, so to be in the know, you have to be part of those problematizations ...

00:06:46.79  >> At the table.

00:06:47.62  >> ... yeah, and at the table. The other thing I've seen change over time, I see kind of a pendulum swing back and forth, and sometimes it depends on the time of the year of how much direct support I'm providing to LEA teams. Sometimes it really is more I'm on SPP/APR. I am not having those one-on-one conversations with teams. And sometimes it's really majority of my day is taken up providing feedback on calls to LEA teams.

00:07:29.80  >> Hmm.

00:07:30.59  >> So it's kind of a swing back and forth, but a lot of my work also now is around the public reporting, making sure that that information is out in more understandable ways, which sometimes can take a lot more time.

00:07:48.90  >> Yeah, absolutely. Amy, what about you? How have things changed for you?

00:07:53.78  >> A lot of what Alisa said is true for me, as well. I do spend more time now on public reporting and communicating data and data visualizations. And I'm working with a contractor for dashboards, which, that evolved probably 3 or 4 years ago. And a lot of my time has been spent on that. When I first came in, my role was basically just to collect data and report it, and I was a data person but not a special ed person.

00:08:24.87  >> Mmm.

00:08:25.32  >> So the more I learned and because data is in everything special ed, I have become more involved in sort of programmatic discussions ...

00:08:35.89  >> Mm-hmm.

00:08:36.12  >> ... behavior discussions. I am sort of the face of our special ed office because I do most of the trainings, although they're around our data system. People know they can reach out to me, so I'm doing a lot of fielding calls and questions. And also, as I've become more familiar with our system and with special education, I've made some changes to sort of update how we do our data collection and reporting. And we're constantly sort of revising the data collection process and trying to document the data cleanup so that we're consistent and we have the same data. We have better data every year based on what we're getting from the LEAs and reporting back.

00:09:27.96  >> Sounds like both of you have really kind of taken this position and made it your own and really run with it and tried to make improvements and expand like both going more into the public reporting, for example. So that's really exciting and something for those who are newer in the data manager role to kind of think about, too, as you're in your role for more time. And what are other areas that you can get into and improve? Talking about new data managers and new staff, Amy, what advice do you have for those who are just getting off the ground as a data manager?

00:10:07.24  >> First, I would say give yourself a little grace. Don't panic because there is a lot to this, and it's ... It can be a little intimidating, knowing you have federal due dates and all this data coming in. So do the best you can, and reach out to other data managers [Indistinct] ...

00:10:31.42  >> Mm-hmm.

00:10:32.58  >> ... or any one you feel comfortable talking to, IDC, if you have questions. Don't hesitate to ask question. The second thing I would say is to document everything, the data process protocols. I'm always talking about the data process protocols because they kind of saved me. We had a data manager in our state that was here for a long time, and when he left, we were kind of lost. And so it's been very helpful. He came back and helped us document these protocols, and then I've kept them going over the last few years, and it was really helpful. And then, third, I would say relationships are key. And Alisa sort of alluded to that earlier. My relationships that I try to build, I have really good relationships with our LEAs, and I'm building relationships with other offices within our department, our tech team and assessment because those relationships really do go a long way in helping you get your job done and ensuring that you have the best data possible reported.

00:11:47.52  >> Great advice. Alisa, what advise do you have?

00:11:52.24  >> My first one was very much going to echo Amy. Be kind to yourself. It's probably going to take you about 3 years before you're going to feel stronger in your position and that you're going to be able to make changes to your processes. Yes, probably after that first year you're going to make tweaks to what you are doing and going, "Oh, this was a headache. I need to address this." But then after that 3 years, you're going to likely be able to a lot better manage your calendar, getting that calendar set up so that you're working with special ed teams and IT teams, whoever you need to work with so you can really chunk out your processes so they're more manageable because there can be a lot of stuff that mounds up on you all at once if you don't do that. So develop a calendar. Figure out what works with your team, whether you do a lot of EDFacts reporting activities, public reporting activities, whether you're on more of those program monitoring or SPP/APR. Figure out so that you don't have too much on your plate all at once because inevitably something else is going to pop up during that same time frame, and it's going to make it stressful for you. So be kind to yourself. Also, work on developing your team's ability to look at data because if you're the only person who's looking at the data and the only access point, which, to a great degree I am, don't do that to yourself. Make it so that your team knows where the information is, how to use that information, and that may take a lot of time up front, developing that, and may take more time at different points in the year. But that's going to save you time and energy throughout the year if your team members know how to access that and feel confident. And looking that information, I think, is, I don't know, a great dream to have.

00:14:26.86  >> And I think that ties into what Amy was saying, too, about documenting everything, so making sure everything, all your processes, procedures, are documented, well documented, and that others on your team are aware of it, have seen it, have looked at it, understand it, too, so kind of building the internal capacity piece.

00:14:46.95  >> And that also builds sustainability ...

00:14:49.78  >> Mm-hmm.

00:14:50.01  >> ... within the team of anybody at any point leaves.

00:14:54.33  >> Right.

00:14:55.17  >> Then, you have those backups. There was something else I was going to say. Oh, yes. Around documenting those processes, there's lots of activities that you're going to be only doing once a year.

00:15:08.15  >> Mm-hmm.

00:15:08.95  >> So having those processes documents and so you can make changes, updates throughout and take the opportunity to make those updates when they're happening because you may forget about it later on, and you don't want to have to go back and do a lot of work on a lot of different files later on.

00:15:32.76  >> Yeah.

00:15:32.91  >> But, yes, document your processes because one year later, you've had a lot of things you've done.

00:15:39.71  >> Mm-hmm. Yep. Yeah. Having ... You're kind of going through and having your processes open and available kind of while you're going through it and updating it along the way, too, as you as you make changes. Like you said, instead of waiting until after, when you feel like maybe I have a little more time but then you're going to forget things. So that makes sense. So, Alisa, I'm really curious to hear, what is your favorite part about being a data manager?

00:16:07.78  >> Favorite part about being a data manager is really that collaboration that you can have across team, those relationships you can build, those opportunities to ... I'm a person who really likes troubleshooting stuff.

00:16:24.78  >> Mm-hmm.

00:16:25.86  >> So going through working with others to make the process better, whether it's more efficient or better quality or whichever, that collaboration and bouncing ideas off of other folks, that's one of my favorite things. The other is when I actually get to do more of that direct support to LEAs, and they have an ah-ha moment.

00:16:52.88  >> Mm-hmm.

00:16:53.39  >> "Oh. You mean I don't have to do all of these things, and I can get my data to look better, and it's going to be easier for me?" That's another one of my favorite things.

00:17:05.26  >> Mm-hmm. Yeah. Amy, what is your favorite thing or things about the job?

00:17:11.37  >> Somebody asked me the other day what my favorite part of my job was, and I said that I get to use all these nerdy interest databases and Excel spreadsheets and data, and I get to use those to help people. So similar to what Elisa said, I love providing support to districts, and I love the data, as well. So it's kind of a nice mix. And the fact that one day never looks like the next ...

00:17:43.71  >> Mm-hmm.

00:17:44.45  >> ... where it's constantly changing, even ... It might just be the data set that I'm working on. It might be that one day, I'm doing a training. The next day, I'm collecting data. The next day, I'm working on public reporting. But it never gets boring.

00:18:00.40  >> Mm-hmm. Yeah.

00:18:01.72  >> Can I pop in another thing?

00:18:04.34  >> Yeah. Yes.

00:18:05.40  >> I really enjoy that I'm always working to make it better, make the ...

00:18:10.75  >> Mm-hmm.

00:18:11.17  >> ... data better, the process better. And so like Amy said, it's never exactly the same because you and others that you're working with are always trying to advance it forward for your state.

00:18:28.39  >> Right. It seems ... Yeah.it would be impossible to have everything be 100-percent perfect. There's always room for improvement and especially as there's new requirements and changes that come through. It's always going to be evolving. And, Amy, what would you say that you're grappling with right now in terms of data quality challenges, and how are you working to address them?

00:18:55.54  >> I think with the data system that we have, they just made updates to the data system. And any time there's an update, there is a change that causes the directors of special education in the state to sort of panic.

00:19:15.09  >> Mm-hmm.

00:19:15.96  >> Because they're not data people. They're special ed people. But they're having to review data and report data, and we have such a turnover ...

00:19:27.28  >> Mm-hmm.

00:19:28.19  >> ... in directors of special education every year, even in the middle of the year, that it's hard to keep the training up. We record the trainings, but sometimes people don't even know that the trainings are out there because they're that new.

00:19:44.48  >> Mm-hmm.

00:19:45.35  >> So I think it's keeping up with the updates in the system and communicating to everyone, especially the new people that you don't ... It's not as hard as it seems.

00:19:58.97  >> Right.

00:19:59.11  >> It's not as scary as it seems. Please don't panic, because I'm here to help.

00:20:03.37  >> Mm-hmm. Alisa, what about you?

00:20:06.12  >> I think also the turnover really is the greatest challenge right now because we've got turnover not only in special ed directors every year. We've got turnover in data enterers.

00:20:20.92  >> Mm-hmm.

00:20:21.22  >> We've got turnover in those registrar folks. And they all contribute to either the high quality or not-so-high quality of data. And they're not just learning how to submit information to the state. They're also learning how to enter that information into their student information systems because LEAs in Idaho have access to use whatever student information system they want ...

00:21:00.96  >> Mm-hmm.

00:21:01.18  >> ... use whatever platform or IAP software they want. And while we have now a lot of folks on the optional IAP software, it all interacts with those student information systems differently. So there is a lot of learning going on, and at the state level, we don't necessarily have the capacity or ability to address all of those learning situations with that student information system. So we have lots of calls come in of, "Could you tell me how I enter this piece of information into my student information system?" It's like, "Well, I can tell you how to submit it to the state and what that's going to look like. But I can't tell you these other pieces because I don't know your software system."

00:21:59.22  >> Mm-hmm.

00:21:59.51  >> I don't know what version you have, and so there is just a lot learning that's going on in each district and that the level of turnover plays a huge, huge amount into that piece. And while you're going through and doing all this training annually on data quality, you have to make sure that you're meeting all of those folks at the level they're at so you're addressing those new to the data recording, and then those who have been in for 15-plus years. So ...

00:22:38.54  >> Yeah.

00:22:38.68  >> That's probably highest level.

00:22:41.80  >> Hmm. So it's similar, I think, in both states in terms of the turnover, your data systems' complexities, training new folks, all of that. So finally, I just wanted to know if there's something you want to talk about you're working on now or something that you're planning for in the future related to improving the quality of your state's IDEA data that you'd like to share with us. Alisa, do you want to kick us off?

00:23:09.15  >> Yeah. I'll jump in. So one of the things that we're trying to figure out, get better at, is all of that public reporting and the ... how that relates back to the data quality is really, if people understand what it's about, they're more likely to put a higher level of importance onto recording good-quality data.

00:23:37.76  >> Mm-hmm.

00:23:38.40  >> So we're trying to make sure that not only are we addressing those 508 accessibility requirements and those basic federal reporting requirements that we're also making that information more understandable and usable for our public. And negotiating those criteria can be pretty tricky because you try to provide it out in more infographic layouts. Then, you're potentially running into those 508 accessibility issues.

00:24:15.08  >> Mm-hmm.

00:24:15.44  >> And so we're just trying to get better, trying to make it more, like I said, understandable, usable and valuable ...

00:24:24.87  >> Yeah.

00:24:24.97  >> ... to not just our teams at the state but at the local level and to families, as well.

00:24:32.40  >> Mm-hmm. Amy, what about in Kentucky?

00:24:34.99  >> So we're working on updating how we collect data and data reports from districts, just trying to make a more ... make it more efficient and ensure that we're getting accurate data like indicators 11, 12 and 13, for example. We collect those directly from the LEAs, and training around that has been difficult, again, because of turnover. And it's ... It can be confusing to them. So we're working on that. And something else I would like to do is, for districts who don't make determinations, do a data retreat.

00:25:09.97  >> Mmm.

00:25:10.47  >> It's something I've been thinking about for a while, and I feel like it would help people understand their data and be able to make changes accordingly instead of just trying ... looking at the overall data or even not even looking at data at all ...

00:25:26.42  >> Mm-hmm.

00:25:26.66  >> ... to make changes. I feel like if we could do sort of a data dive with them and let them disaggregate it and see what's going on within the numbers, I feel like that would help districts a lot.

00:25:39.20  >> Yeah, definitely. That's sounds like a great idea, and I would love to hear more about it and hope that happens.

00:25:45.43  >> Me, too.

00:25:47.18  >> Well, thank you both so much. Really appreciate you being on and sharing your experience and knowledge and expertise in this just ever-changing world and role. And it sounds like you have a lot of great stuff coming up.

00:26:04.37  >> 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.