Big Data

1/2/2014 By: Sheryl Abshire

Big Data: Analysis Versus Paralysis

BIG DATA. Even the buzzword is off-putting. Districts already have more data than they can manage, and the new assessments and teacher evaluations for 2014 promise to add more to the overflowing pile of numbers.

District leaders are overwhelmed right now because they face many changes in 2014, and they’re all data-related. The first thing to do is figure out three issues: (1) What sort of assessments you are giving, (2) how the data are being analyzed, and (3) who is accessing and using the data, and how.

Once you have these answers, you then need to ask, “What are our goals in terms of not only data analysis but data management?” For us, we concluded that we wanted our data to inform instruction, raise student achievement, and help teachers and principals be more efficient. I can’t stress enough how much it is not about buying a product. You need a living, breathing partnership.

It is very easy to buy an out-of-the-box solution and then tweak it. However, it is very hard, focused, and intellectually demanding work to build what you really need. We developed a data warehouse called “The Data Store—A One Stop Shop” with a committee that included teachers, principals, and school counselors, as well as our assessment department, our curriculum department, and the tech department. We went through and methodically and strategically looked at what we were doing well and not so well.

This conversation led to the development of an online portal that pulls in data from every system in the district and aggregates that data into easy-to-read dashboards that allow teachers to slice and dice the data to better understand their kids. It took about two and a half years to build that system, and it continues to evolve. It’s never finished. We continue to innovate around need.

The final important piece is securing committed caretakers. Who’s going to own the system? Who’s going to be responsible? And who’s going to take care of it? The committed caretaker still attends all of the meetings to make sure the system continues to serve the district goals. These are complex systems and will not be an overnight success. But slow and steady wins the race.

Sheryl Abshire is the Chief Technology Officer of Calcasieu Parish Public Schools (LA).

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