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June 23, 2023

The Importance of Data Ownership in K-12

In today's digital landscape, data is becoming increasingly intertwined with the daily operations of K-12 schools. With the rise of digital learning tools and student information systems, districts are often accumulating vast amounts of data on a frequent basis. This data, if utilized effectively, can provide profound insights that can positively influence teaching strategies, student performance, resource allocation, and much more.

The good news? This data, if utilized effectively, can provide profound insights that can positively influence teaching strategies, student performance, resource allocation, and much more.

The bad news? With great power comes great responsibility. To use this data effectively and ethically, it is imperative districts have clear guidelines and understanding of data ownership and stewardship. 

Think about the following for your district: Who owns your school's data? Who should have access? And importantly, who ensures all data is secure and ready to work with? 

Let's uncover the answers together by working through the steps of a successful data ownership system.

Building Your Data Governance Team

To prepare your district for data readiness, it is essential to set time aside to set up your systems and teams for success. One key step is forming your data governance team.

Data management isn't a one-person show. It involves diverse stakeholders from various departments, along with caregiver and student representatives. Data governance teams play a pivotal role in formulating processes for handling the district's sensitive data, especially personal information and its collection, maintenance, usage, and distribution. They safeguard the district and its students through these vital processes.

Additionally, these teams work together to create processes for how to deal with a district's sensitive data — specifically personal information — on how it is gathered, maintained, used, and distributed. While it can be difficult to establish data governance teams in schools or districts, they are essential for  providing ongoing support in the future.

Auditing Your Data 

The next step in the journey towards data readiness is understanding where your data lives. Start by making a chart of all the data points you collect - from attendance to assessment, interventions, and beyond. This audit will serve as your roadmap, guiding your way through the complex landscape of data management.

Including a Data Steward on Your Data Governance Team

During the formation of your data governance team, one crucial role to establish is that of a data steward. A data steward is the person(s) in your school or district responsible for the management and fitness of data elements — both content and metadata. He/she should have a deep understanding of the connection between the data and district needs. This person also ensures data is collected correctly for local and federal reporting. 

This person is responsible for ensuring the integrity, security, and efficient use of data within the educational institution. Some common titles for this role might include Director of Data Quality, Data Coordinator, Database Administrator, Accountability Director, or Management Information Systems Director. 

You will often hear the word, “NO!” from your data steward and that is a good thing! Data stewards are the best protectors of highly sensitive data. They are the unsung everyday heroes of school district operations.

What Does a Data Steward Do? 

Data stewards are essential partners for the success of unifying K-12 data. 

This position plays a crucial role in managing and ensuring the integrity, security, and effective use of data within educational institutions, including the following: 

  1. Data governance: A data steward establishes and maintains data governance practices within the educational institution. This includes defining data policies, standards, and procedures to ensure data is collected, stored, managed, and shared in a consistent, reliable, and secure manner.
  1. Data quality and integrity: The data steward is responsible for data quality and integrity, ensuring accurate and reliable information is available for decision-making processes. They oversee data entry, validation, and cleansing activities, confirming data is accurate, complete, and up-to-date.
  1. Compliance and privacy: In an increasingly digital world, educational institutions need to comply with various data protection laws and regulations, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in the United States. The data steward ensures student and staff data is handled in accordance with relevant privacy regulations and guidelines.
  1. Data analysis and reporting: Educational institutions collect vast amounts of data, including student performance, attendance, demographic information, and more. A data steward helps in analyzing this data to identify trends, patterns, and insights that can inform instructional strategies, curriculum development, resource allocation, and policy-making decisions. They also ensure accurate and timely reporting to meet internal and external reporting requirements.
  1. Data security: Safeguarding sensitive data is crucial in educational institutions. A data steward works to establish and enforce data security protocols, including access controls, encryption, data backup, and disaster recovery plans. They collaborate with IT professionals to protect data from unauthorized access, breaches, and data loss incidents.
  1. Collaboration and communication: A data steward serves as a liaison between different stakeholders within the educational institution. They collaborate with administrators, teachers, IT staff, and other relevant parties to understand their data needs, provide data-related support and guidance, and facilitate effective communication and collaboration around data-driven decision-making.

The role of a data steward in K-12 education is essential for ensuring the quality, security, privacy, and effective utilization of data to improve educational outcomes, enhance administrative processes, and support evidence-based decision-making. They will be the bedrock of your data management team and steward towards data readiness. 

Ask Yourself: Who Owns Your Data?

Data ownership in schools and districts can be a complicated issue, particularly when third-party vendors are involved. When evaluating new edtech platforms, it is crucial to seek a clear understanding of who will own the data.

Consider the following questions when evaluating edtech platforms that you will be sharing data with: 

  • Will your data be stored securely, and are there protocols for data breaches? 
  • Is it clear what will happen to your data when it's erased, and can it be exported in a format that can be easily used by your district? 
  • Will the vendor inform you about any security issues? 

Understanding data ownership when shared with third-party vendors is crucial in ensuring the security and privacy of your data, as well as its readiness to be used for informed decision-making within your institution.

Navigating Data Ownership

In a world increasingly driven by data, understanding and maintaining data ownership in K-12 education is not just necessary, it's imperative. When you are well-informed and careful about how data is handled, you ensure your institution is not only following best practices, but also building a trustful environment for students, caregivers, and staff. Remember, when it comes to data, ownership isn't just about having data — it's about effectively and ethically managing it to improve educational outcomes.

At Pear Assessment (formerly, Edulastic), we are committed to helping you navigate this journey, providing the tools, support, and guidance you need to ensure effective data ownership in your school or district. 

Pear Assessment's Data Studio can help districts build a culture around data ownership and readiness, with a comprehensive platform to navigate, analyze, and use your school or district's data effectively.

Learn how Data Studio can support your schools today.

Erica Hartman Headshot

Erica Hartman

Subject Matter Expert, CTO Person Rev/Strat

Erica Hartman is a former director of technology in public education and serves as a Subject Matter Expert on GoGuardian’s strategy team. Erica has 20 years of teaching and administrative experience helping school districts choose digital platforms that best suit their strategic goals. She specializes in large-scale deployments, digital architecture of online platforms, data interoperability, blended learning, digital citizenship, and student safety.


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