I’ve talked with a number of communities over the years that are undertaking the work of building a collective impact education partnership, and one of the first things they think about is how to manage the data collection and data initiatives of the partnership. “What exactly do you work on as a data manager?” they ask. “And what kinds of skill sets do we need to be looking for in a data manager?” So through those conversations and reflecting back on the data work when StrivePartnership was still young, I’ve put together the following “a day in the life of a data manager,” split into two parts. Part two is below.
All of the outcome indicators that you would like to track as a partnership may not be readily available. Part of the work is directly with partners to help develop shared measures and determine the best way to start tracking them. One example from StrivePartnership’s early work was in selecting our outcome indicator for goal one: Every child will be prepared for school.
There were a number of indicators that we could potentially track (infant mortality, low birth weight, pre-K experience, etc). But we knew the best measure would be one that is a close proxy to the goal, and the one we landed on was percent of children who are assessed as ready for school when they enter kindergarten. But this data wasn’t consistently available. We worked closely with the Success By 6® early childhood networks and the school districts to land on an assessment and begin tracking the data on a regular basis. The early childhood networks were meeting on a regular basis, and I remember that in one of the Covington network meetings, we brainstormed a list on flipchart paper of about 20 different assessments that were being used by partners. There are no common measures for kindergarten readiness and there aren’t even standard definitions of it. Many factors influence a child’s readiness for school including cognitive development, physical well-being, language use, approach to learning, motor development and social/emotional skills. But we needed to land on something as a population-level measure, even if the measures are imperfect, in order to advance the conversation. “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” was a mantra, and we had three good measures in our three geographic areas: Cincinnati, Covington and Newport.
Cincinnati is using a brief assessment tool called the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment – Literacy (KRA-L), which helps teachers identifies early reading skills. It is an assessment that has been adopted by the state of Ohio. Newport started out using the Developmental Indicators for Early Learning (DIAL-3) screen tool. The DIAL-3 provides scores for motor, concepts and language. Covington started out using the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy (DIBELS), which measures letter-naming fluency and initial sound fluency.
The work of a data manager could involve getting into the weeds on all these measures with members of the collaborative action networks where necessary, helping to sort through the various measures.The partnership can highlight the discrepancies in the ways school readiness is measured and help advance the conversation around the importance of good data and in pushing toward common measures. Covington and Newport agreed on and began reporting a common measure (the Dial-3) a couple of years after the initial baseline report. And just recently, Kentucky adopted a new statewide assessment that all districts in the state will be using.
As mentioned earlier, there are three primary areas where I found myself spending time on any given day: digging into data, building relationships and consensus with stakeholders, and supporting the data needs of collaborative action networks. A short list of competencies for a data manager would include:
- Knowledge and demonstrated success in data collection, management and analysis; knowledge of education and community data resources
- Ability to build relationships and work with key partners to develop a comprehensive community accountability system that incorporates data across the cradle-to-career education pipeline
- Ability to address and overcome uncertain and complex issues to achieve desired results
- Plans for the collection, analysis and reporting of data to measure the partnership’s impact and to facilitate evidence-based decision-making and continuous improvement
- Develops and cultivates relationships with community partners and stakeholders, including data and research professionals in education, business, faith, nonprofit, philanthropic and civic sectors