Planning for the Future in the Midst of Crises: Tennessee Begins Documenting Data Processes

Establishing well-managed data processes increases the accuracy and validity of data and ensures that required data submissions occur on time. IDC’s SEA Data Processes Toolkit offers customizable protocol templates for documenting IDEA Sections 616 and 618 data collection processes and activities—but it’s not always easy to prioritize work addressing future issues when faced with a litany of pressing issues in the present.

This could have been the case in Tennessee where Fred Edora and I arrived to work with state staff on documenting their processes just one week after the deadly tornado hit Nashville. When we arrived, our hotel was running on generator power because of tornado damage, and we observed damage to city infrastructure while on our way to the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) the next morning.

Despite the challenges posed by this natural disaster, state staff at TDOE chose to continue with the data processes TA visit. Staff used the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues across departments, document processes currently in place, and compile a list of questions to guide future work.

“The collection of high-quality data is critical to our work,” says Zac Stone, Director of Data Services of TDOE’s Division of Special Populations. “We cannot effectively assess program implementation or produce federally required reports without a coordinated, collaborative effort to gather and analyze data. Completing the SEA Data Processes Toolkit protocols has been and will continue to be a top priority for our team. Tennessee’s data are collected by different mechanisms, stored in a variety of data systems, and managed by numerous internal and external stakeholders; therefore, developing clear, comprehensive documentation is an important first step that will both improve our current work and set us up for future success.”

This type of persistence pays off in the long term. Sometimes the work of developing written data processes is understandably pushed aside in favor of more urgent matters, such as responding to inaccuracies in your most recent data submission or addressing the consequences of a natural disaster in your state’s biggest city.

When states can safely move past these barriers, expending effort toward completing step-by-step data processes has far reaching positive impacts over time. That’s because working the process itself uncovers and focuses attention on root causes in your state’s data systems – it allows state staff to peek beneath the surface at the underlying reasons for persistent data issues and create sustainable improvements in data systems. These processes are there to follow when the next challenge inevitably arises, providing a road map for maintaining quality data systems even when you are faced with a crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic also poses several other urgent data challenges, but it doesn’t have to interrupt the systemic improvement activities happening in your state. If beginning your state’s data journey feels daunting, you can use the IDC SEA Data Processes Toolkit collection of protocol templates to document all state-level IDEA data collection, validation, submission, and public reporting processes and activities. IDC has specialized TA providers available who can facilitate capturing written data processes in your state. IDC currently offers these services virtually and will continue to offer them virtually or in person once safe travel resumes.

For more information on the SEA Data Processes Toolkit, visit the data processes web page or get in touch with your IDC State Liaison.

–Tye Ripma