Leveraging data to improve student outcomes can be challenging, but Santa Clara County has developed a powerful, forward-thinking solution.
Improving the way that teachers and administrators access and utilize student data has been the impetus behind the majority of Marcy Lauck’s work in education for the better part of the last two decades. In her capacity as an Associate at the Education for the Future initiative, Lauck worked with stakeholders in the San Jose Unified School District to stand up one of the first K12 data warehouses in the country in 2001.
While the American educational landscape has undergone a series of tectonic shifts since the turn of the millennium, the best practices for putting data into action have remained largely the same. To drive substantive changes in educational outcomes for all of its students, a district must gain access to the right data at the right time, must pair this insight with educator data literacy (which can include professional development programs as well as intuitive dashboards), and must have a shared vision for continuous improvement. In other words, district success depends on the development of a data culture.
Lauck and her team were able to achieve remarkable results across San Jose Unified by attending to these imperatives, but at the end of the day, the district’s data warehouse was only capable of providing a partial picture of its students’ lives. As a pioneering sociologist and researcher commissioned by Congress in 1966 to study educational equity, James S. Coleman pointed out that school-related factors only account for 30 percent of the variance in student outcomes; the rest depends on a student’s family background, neighborhood, and peer environment.
It was the desire to overcome the challenges presented by this limited visibility that inspired Lauck to put her plans for retirement on hold in 2012 and join with cross-disciplinary researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz, to submit a planning grant to the National Science Foundation. The plan’s aim was to build the community’s capacity for data intensive research in education through the development of the Silicon Valley Regional Data Trust (SVRDT). Proposed as a partnership of the County Offices of Education and Health and Human Service Agencies in the 3 counties comprising Silicon Valley — San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz — and the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), the Trust’s mission is to change the culture and practice of how data is responsibly and ethically used to develop actionable solutions to critical educational, health, and social problems. The planning grant was funded by NSF in 2013.
During this same time frame, the Santa Clara County Office of Education was building the DataZone, an education data warehouse powered by Hoonuit. Lauck immediately recognized the value of incorporating the DataZone as the education data repository for the SVRDT, and in 2015, SCCOE and the SVRDT signed a formal memorandum of understanding outlining a strategic partnership aimed at improving outcomes for students, families, and communities throughout the region by increasing data access and improving data utilization.
In 2016, Lauck officially joined the SCCOE as the Director of Data Governance and has been instrumental in onboarding more than 30 districts into the DataZone. In her role as a founder and director of the SVRDT, she oversees and coordinates the work between the SCCOE and the Trust. With funding by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in 2017, the building of the SVRDT’s integrated policy, legal, and technology environment began. Launching its first-of-its-kind Secure Data Environment in May of 2018, it will enable K-12 public schools and county health and human service agencies to share data to coordinate case management, personalize and integrate services, inform public policy, and to partner with UCSC faculty to conduct research in partnership with public schools and county agencies. In 2018, the Trust also formally became an initiative of the Santa Clara County Office of Education.
The DataZone is considered the backbone of the SVRDT. As Lauck often says, agencies such as Child Welfare, Juvenile Probation and Behavioral Health involve some of our most at-risk populations of children and families. The “slices” of students that are served by each of these agencies may overlap, but the siloed nature of each agency’s data prevents coordination of services. Because all children are enrolled in schools, a data-informed education environment makes it possible to unite and coordinate efforts to streamline services and provide better supports to children and families.
Helping districts strategically use their data to better understand their students’ academic, social and emotional needs is a passionate commitment of Lauck’s. In both the SVRDT and DataZone’s work, getting the data organized and accessible is only the first step. Knowing how to use the data brings powerful lessons in organizational change management for schools and agencies. “There were many powerful lessons learned along the way in the early education data warehousing efforts,” says Lauck, “not the least of which was that in order for data to inform educators’ work, we first had to figure out what data was actionable for teachers and administrators, and to begin building a data culture geared to leveraging these actionable insights.” Those lessons continue to be at the heart of this more expanded work for school districts and their agency partners, and efforts to provide districts with easy access to early warning indicators and the knowledge, tools, and skills to intervene have already yielded powerful results.
Building a Game-Changing Data Warehouse in Santa Clara County
SCCOE oversees 30 districts that collectively enroll more than 250,000 students. By building a robust data warehouse powered by Hoonuit, SCCOE has supported its districts to drive continuous improvements in outcomes for a wide range of student subgroups.
The Data Zone’s architecture aggregates, normalizes, and conforms data from districts’ disparate source systems using automated ETL processes, and brings that data to life using custom dashboards that highlight key, district-specific metrics. Over 90 PreK-12 dashboards and 350 actionable metrics in the DataZone include early warning indicators, state accountability measures, and granular data on interventions and dosage. This information can play a critical role in the exchange of information between agencies about which interventions and at what dosage are most effective in changing outcomes for students. Continuing recruitment of districts in the tri-county region is expanding the core education repository and enabling SVRDT stakeholders’ capacity to provide more aligned services, policies, and practices.
The implementation of DataZone in these districts has led to more accurate, actionable insights for teachers and administrators in schools across the county.In the Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD), for instance, stakeholders leveraged DataZone to not only boost the district’s high school graduation rate by 6 percent in just three years, but to reduce suspensions of Latinx students by 50 percent — a persistent issue within the district. What’s more, they significantly increased enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) courses without an attendant decrease in the district-wide AP exam pass rate.
The Centrality of Educational Data
The ongoing success of the DataZone is attributable to many factors — it is, after all, an inherently collaborative project — but it would have never been possible without the help of Hoonuit. “Hoonuit makes our work possible,” says Lauck. “Their skills and support give us the tools we need to do the hard work of transforming our education system and the lives of all the children that walk through our doors every day.”
Through their partnership with Hoonuit, SCCOE has all the tools necessary to make a real difference in every young person’s life.
“Time is short, but a year in the life of a child is long,” says Lauck. “We have the tools we need to make a difference, and we need to put them to work.”
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