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Making Big Data Smaller

The Strategic Data Project provides a roadmap for schools awash in data but lacking a strategy to use it
a screen shot of data

It’s no secret that education leaders — like everyone else, it seems — are floating in data, with districts and state agencies gathering more information about students, teachers, and schools than ever before. But for many leaders, it adds up to little more than white noise. Lacking a systematic approach to centralizing, organizing, and analyzing the information, organizations lose out on opportunities to improve services and student outcomes.

Enter the Strategic Use of Data Rubric, a resource developed by the Strategic Data Project (SDP) to help education leaders adopt a more data-driven approach. The rubric is a one-stop tool for assessing an organization’s strengths and challenges around data use. It can help school districts and other groups develop a common vocabulary about data, identify areas in which they can improve their use of data across their functional areas, and chart a path toward using the data more strategically. 

As part of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, SDP has been working with districts, charter school networks, state education agencies, and nonprofits since 2008 to transform the way they collect and use data to support their program, management, and policy goals. SDP created the rubric as a first step for districts seeking to gain control over their information — to take stock of what they have, where they are storing it, and what needs it might serve.

“The notion of data-driven decision making has been an attractive one for quite some time, and many education leaders are excited to push these issues forward in their agencies,” says Nick Morgan, SDP’s executive director. “Some may even be convinced that all the necessary systems and processes are in place. However, these leaders often lack a common taxonomy upon which to base a coherent conversation and policy priorities. The SDP rubric provides clarity around where to start, what direction to take, and also on what using data more strategically actually looks like.”

The rubric examines how organizations store, access, and use available data to support broad areas of function: Goal-setting for, and evaluation of, programs and major initiatives; system-level performance management and accountability; and resource allocation and budgeting.

For information on how your organization can partner with the Strategic Data Project  either by hosting or enrolling fellows in the SDP Fellowship Program or by working with SDP on a diagnostic project, click here.


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