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Youth face how to accurately represent data as conditions change

written by Zoë Jenkins

The COVID-19 crisis exposes and exacerbates pre-existing inequities in our education system that aren’t being reported enough. Through a mixed methods student-led research approach, we aim to shed light on the student experience of navigating the pandemic in order to translate it into informed policy and practice decisions to better support the most marginalized students in our school system. The project began with a youth-designed survey generated nearly 13,000 responses from all of Kentucky’s 120 counties.

We completed and shared our very first district-specific report using our survey data! The report looked at changes in home life, education perceptions, post-secondary confidence, and physical/mental wellness for students in Boone County, Kentucky. Starting from scratch made this report a laborious but rewarding project – and it creates the framework for future district/region-specific reports.

One obstacle we encountered in the Boone County district report was deciding how to include statistics about students’ confidence returning back to school. While this is one of the most significant data points in our research, we had to decide how to most accurately portray the data in a specific context, given that our survey window was in mid-May, when COVID-19 cases were declining in Kentucky. Seeing as that is no longer the case, we decided it was irresponsible to report these statistics alone and grappled with how to convey information about students’ confidence in returning to school since that is important for district leaders to know. We decided to focus on differences within specific groups, namely between students who identified as at risk for COVID-19 vs. students who did not, as well as students across the socioeconomic spectrum. By focusing on such differences, we could make comparisons – i.e. students who were at risk for COVID-19 were more likely to favor a remote only plan in the fall – instead of reporting specific statistics. We also made a specific disclaimer about our survey window in the study overview. We plan to continue using this type of approach in other reports when discussing returning to school plans to make sure that we most responsibly convey student voices.