Harvard Fellows Tackle Wake Schools Data

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A $700,000 grant awarded by the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University is set to begin helping Wake County schools more effectively use data in its decision making.

Wake’s two-year participation in the Strategic Data Project will primarily provide data on teacher effectiveness and students’ success rate in post-secondary institutions such as college.

While researchers at Harvard will be focused on teacher effectiveness and college-going students’ success for just six months of the two years, four fellows working within the district will be allowed to focus on whatever WCPSS dictates for the full two years.

Two of the fellows will be chosen from outside the district by the Strategic Data Project and then approved by WCPSS. The other two will be chosen by WCPSS from within the district.

“One of the things we’ll use it for is putting together a very strong review process and performance measures for the student assignment plan,” said Chief Transformation Officer Judy Peppler.

Another primary focus will be the achievement gap, said Superintendent Tony Tata. The fellows will compare the performance of socioeconomically disadvantaged students in traditional schools, year-round schools with track-out programs and year-round schools without track-out programs.

Track-out programs provide tutoring and student resources even while year-round students are on break.

Tata explained his impetus for comparing the different calendars.

“I’ve had some principals with high socioeconomically disadvantaged student populations to request year-round status so that they could have the shorter track-out periods, because then they don’t have to catch up the students at the beginning of the school year,” he said.

The data fellows will also be used to monitor national best practices for evaluating how elementary school teachers identify students who need extra help and will examine Wake’s Algebra 1 math placement policy.

Executive Director of the Center for Education Policy Research Jon Fullerton said that school systems often have massive amounts of underutilized data that could be used for more effective decision-making.

“We work with partner districts to help explore the existing data and help them gain insight into what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “We provide examples of how you can use the fairly massive amounts of data that school districts are sitting on to better plan and manage the organization.”

Tata agrees.

“Anything we can do to enrich our ability and then collect and analyze data and then make good decisions based on that data is a good thing for the system,” he said.

The Strategic Data Project is primarily funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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