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,
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).