Voices from the Region spotlights stakeholders in Region 11 and their work to improve educational opportunities and outcomes. The R11CC is privileged to collaborate with and share the insights of Dr. Greg Carlson. Dr. Carlson is an institutional researcher with the North Dakota University System who assists the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) through a legislative arrangement created in 2017. Dr. Carlson has a Master of Education in college teaching, as well as a Ph.D. in institutional analysis, with a concentration in alternative deliveries of education, from North Dakota State University. Dr. Carlson is an R11CC Advisory Board member and a partner with the center’s North Dakota project supporting TSI and CSI schools.

Dr. Greg CarlsonTell us more about your professional role, responsibilities, and goals in your current position.

In August 2017, I was hired to help NDDPI with institutional research support, which has really lent itself to work in project management, data systems, accountability, district data support, and accreditation. I work primarily with the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) accountability system, our public dashboard, and a private complement to that dashboard, which we refer to as the STARS Reporting and Analytics Portal. Essentially, what we’re doing at the state level is putting together the required reporting and data analytics support, which is something that our schools and districts don’t have the capacity to do. While this is required reporting, we’re looking at it as a means to help schools help students do better. That’s really our guiding principle. We want all of our schools to look at their data. This is not and cannot be just a compliance piece. It really needs to be a piece focused on continuous improvement.

Within the dashboard, a school can go in and get a snapshot of its overall accountability rating, score for each indicator, and their room for improvement for each indicator. They can see how they’re doing on an indicator in comparison to the district and the state and if there are certain areas they can work on. For many indicators, they can access and export a student roster, with demographic data to see particularly if it’s a certain group of students who are really struggling and a trend tab to see how they’ve done compared to previous years. We’re continuing to build this out and hoping to make more data available as time goes on. We also have long-term goals in there, which we’re required to report under ESSA. We have a report for schools to see how they’re doing on the rule of 95% participation in the state assessments. We have a section on the special education Annual Performance Report that’s required each year, as well as the financial transparency data that we’re now representing to our school and district administrators, so they can see finance data in a more digestible way. Our school leaders are educators, not finance experts. A lot of this financial data before was made available through large PDF documents or Excel spreadsheets that few had the time or inclination to read. This is a nice avenue for displaying financial data in a useful way.

I’m extremely proud of this platform because it’s something that is designed by educators and built by people who have technological expertise, but the focus is still very much on how this can benefit educators and students. I believe that if we can make it easier for our school leaders to access and utilize this data, then they can spend more time actually helping their students do better. That’s really the goal. Everybody I work with operates under the main goal of helping our students do better.

What’s your background in education, and what drew you to this work?

I’ve always had a strong passion for education that was instilled in me by my parents, although I’ve taken a little bit of a circuitous route to where I am today. Prior to this role, I’ve done work as a Dual Credit program coordinator, some online teaching in history and government, and my most recent position to this was spending five years as director of institutional research and assessment at Valley City University, which is a small regional public campus in the state.

I saw this opportunity as a means of doing system-level work, where I could conceivably have a larger impact, and I’ve long had that desire. I really enjoy working with our administrators and school leaders. Since 2017, I’ve also served as a peer reviewer for the Higher Learning Commission to help accredit higher education campuses in the region. This position has been a nice opportunity to bring my higher ed experience and my dual credit experience together.

How has the Comprehensive Center supported your work?

I have really enjoyed the opportunity to work with the Comprehensive Center. The center has been very helpful with the work that we’re doing supporting the TSI and CSI schools. They’re helping us to further hone the notion of continuous improvement and improvement science and having us think through how we’re having these data conversations and presenting these data resources in a way that can really have tangible impacts on student and school performance. I’m also on the Advisory Board, and that experience has been beneficial for me in being part of some important conversations that can impact student learning on a larger scale.

What does success look like for your schools and students?

I take a lot of pride seeing our students and our schools succeed and in helping our state agency and school leaders really highlight and promote the focus on continuous improvement and success of our students and schools. I’m not one that focuses on the system just for the sake of the system; I want the system to really be helpful and beneficial for those it’s intended to help. I continuously seek ways we can further enhance the system to help address any new needs that arise by thinking about what additional kinds of data we may have that we can make available that might assist our schools in further understanding student performance and areas where they can focus on improving student outcomes—that’s what drives me.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I really enjoy my work and cherish the opportunity to contribute in a positive way. I know there’s always a lot of external noise going on, but I always try to stay positive and stay focused on the end goal of helping our schools and students do the best they can. I’m very blessed to work with a great team of people across the agency that are focused on that goal as well.

This interview was featured in the R11CC Fall 2023 newsletter.