Providing Structure to an Unstructured Data Environment
Big data is nothing new in education. Districts grapple with disparate datasets living in various places both at the district office and within each individual school, all with the objective of making sense of so many data elements. From state data sources to vendor data extracts to local data sets, collecting and organizing the vast amount of student information can be overwhelming for any district.
While districts are consistently looking for critical insights on student performance from all these different sources of data, it can become extremely difficult to translate what is meaningful and what is not, unless there is a plan. In working with districts across the country, many are tackling data governance through a few simple strategies.
Strategy #1 – Aligning data to strategic goals
First, as a district, consider making critical decisions around what data sources are most important to measure district goals. Use your district’s strategic plan as a blueprint for your data collection, and if the data source does not align with that strategic plan, it may be taking up a lot of district resources to maintain datasets that are not used by your staff or aligned to current district goals. Additionally, when data is presented that is not aligned with the goals of the district, confusion may arise to what the areas of focus are within the organization. Keep it simple…In order for a dataset to be maintained, it has to align to a district goal.
Strategy #2 – Identifying your data champions
Second, with the increase in data requirements from state and federal levels, keeping good records on students becomes critical, especially when funding aligns to student enrollment, demographics, and performance. More and more, districts are identifying key personnel as ‘data champions’ to ensure there is proper, safe, and consistent data entry and management practices across all schools within the district.
Point of entry is critical to ensure the data is accurate, especially within systems like the student information system (SIS), as many critical data exports come from the SIS and are shared with vendors, state/federal governing bodies and even stakeholders. Equally important is managing access to the data to ensure all individuals that have access to district data are in compliance with all state and federal data privacy guidelines/regulations.
Strategy #3 – Visualizing your data
Once you know your critical datasets and you know it is entered properly to align to your goals, visualize the data. Providing analytics, specifically, disaggregated analytics, provides leadership teams the ability to determine if the organization is staying on-track with their goals, or if they need to pivot and change course. Furthermore, these analytics can be great tools to communicate to your respective stakeholders on how the district and schools are keeping a laser-like focus on the goals established by the organization.
All in all, while the data landscape is ever changing, data governance is critical to making sure that each district accesses, collects, manages, and analyzes data that aligns to strategic goals. This endeavor is no easy task, as it must comply with all data privacy legislation. However, by focusing on key data elements, empowering key personnel to ‘own’ the data and presenting it in a manner that accurately portrays the performance of the school district, allows leaders to effectively communicate the goals of the organization and how they are moving toward achieving those goals each day.
Dr. Adam Cibulka is the Frontline Senior Manager for Analytics. Prior to joining the Frontline team, Adam served in public education as a teacher, department head, assistant principal, high school principal and district level administrator. Most recently, Dr. Cibulka was the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at DuPage High School District 88, located in Addison, Illinois, where he was responsible for the assessment structures, curricular resources, development of new curriculum, management of Title grants, professional learning communities, teacher evaluation system, and staff development teams. Dr. Cibulka received a Bachelor’s Degree from Wheaton College in History/Social Science Secondary Education and a Master’s (MA) and Doctoral Degree (ED.D.) in Educational Administration from Northern Illinois University.