Harvard Graduate School of Education Logo

Give back to HGSE and support the next generation of passionate educators and innovative leaders.

Winter 2017

Dear Data. I Need You. Faster.

Proving GroundAs more and more districts of all sizes started collecting data to evaluate what programs and interventions were working for their students and which weren’t, it became clear to the team at the Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) that this information was helpful only if educators had a way to interpret it — and in a timely way. So last year, CEPR created Proving Ground, a five-year project geared toward helping districts eliminate the need to hire research firms to conduct costly and time-consuming evaluations of their initiatives.

“It started as an idea on how to get data back in a much shorter cycle. It usually takes years,” says Bi Vuong, the project’s director. “We wanted to get data back faster, including analysis, so that districts could make managerial decisions and make changes in practice with their curriculum. It’s great that there’s data analysis, but if it comes after I’ve already submitted my budget, that’s not helpful.”

What’s unique about the project is that while districts will be able to learn from analysis of their specific data, they will also benefit from the combined data created by all 13 districts involved in the project.

“Most school districts are smaller than 30,000 kids,” Vuong says. “We’re able to use data from the larger network of 230,000 kids. Especially for a 5,000-student district, they’d never be able to effectively test if something works. That’s even true for a 50,000-student district. They need that larger sample size.”

For the first year of the project, the districts are focusing on the impact of two education software programs — Achieve 3000 and ST Math. In February, districts provided their data to CEPR and, by May, received back analysis that looked at, among other things, whether the software made an impact and for which students and how the program’s impact in one district compared with the impact felt at other districts using the same program. There were also actionable reports districts could begin using right away to develop future plans.

Illustration by Greg Clarke