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Education Analysts Participate in SDP Institute

Fifty education analysts had a unique opportunity recently to bridge the gap between rigorous data analysis and key policy challenges faced by education agencies.

As part of the Strategic Data Project’s (SDP) first Institute for Leadership Analytics, participants spent four days examining student achievement data as a means to understand students’ progress through high school and into college, and patterns of teacher effectiveness. This institute — which was open for all education analysts, not only those participating in the SDP fellowship program — was the first of its kind offered by SDP, a project within the Harvard Graduate School of Education-based Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) at Harvard University.

“Education agencies are swimming in data,” said Patty Diaz, Center for Education Policy Research director of SDP Education and Outreach. “There is no other executive education program that targets analysts in education agencies. SDP’s offerings — resources, professional development, and the Toolkit for Effective Data Use — support our education sector to move beyond using data for purposes of accountability to data use and analysis that reveals patterns and trends not easily understood without the analytic entrepreneurship that our program teaches participants.”

Participants learned basic data exploration techniques for producing descriptive analyses; produced cutting-edge analyses in high school completion, college-going indicators, and teacher placement and retention; assessed operational use of data; and learned methods and strategies for program evaluation. The institute included computer lab sessions allowing participants to manipulate large education datasets, and also small-group discussions and plenaries that built their leadership and change management skills.

Ultimately, the goal is to improve the level of rigor that currently exists in education/analytic departments and to connect the work to relevant issues within their home agency, Diaz said.

“Participants learned to tell a story with their data and analytics, conveying the importance of analytic findings to multiple audiences while at the same time facilitating a connection between the findings and key policy issues the agency faces,” Diaz said.

The institute attracted over 90 applicants. Due to the positive reception of the institute and SDP’s commitment to providing the education sector with resources, there will be another institute in February 2014.