Improving Outcomes for Students – The Mass EduData Challenge

| Christopher Scranton

Cathy Wissink


On Wednesday, October 1, the Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center – New England had the pleasure of hosting an esteemed panel for our Education & Data event, the third in our series of Conversations on Civic Tech. One of the panelists, Christopher Scranton, presented some awesome findings on innovative ways of working with student data, and we are pleased to have him continue the topic below. –Aimee Sprung, Director of Civic Engagement

As the Senior Manager for Big Data and Technology Initiatives for the Innovation Institute at MassTech, I recently had the privilege of supporting the collaborative effort among industry, government, and the region’s expert data community to explore how new approaches to organizing and visualizing data can deliver unique insights and improved services for the Commonwealth’s teachers, administrators, and the students whom they support.

I was especially inspired by the innovative approaches to working with data that were created by participants during our April 2014 Mass EduData Challenge. Built upon open, anonymous data provided by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE), the winning projects highlighted improvements to how data is organized and analyzed, which could enhance outcomes for students and our understanding of the Commonwealth’s education system as a whole.

Below are three ways in which the winning submissions from the Mass EduData Challenge demonstrated innovative approaches to working with data:

  • Analysis of Girls STEM Achievement (Winner: Best Use of Data)
    A team of data professionals from the national headquarters of Boston-based City Year combined Mass EduData Challenge data with other available academic information. The result was a website which features integrated visualization tools that enables policymakers and the public to explore and compare varying levels of STEM education achievement by female students across the state. The team’s goals were to improve access to the basic information, to highlight best cases and opportunities for improvement, and encourage comparisons and sharing of best practices among regions, districts, and schools.
  • Data Aggregation (Winner: Collaborative Data Contribution)
    A team comprised of two local data analysts aggregated all of the educational data available via the data challenge into a single, easy-to-use online database. The team also created an API (application programming interface) to make it easier for other participants and developers to create useful applications and analyses with the DESE-supplied data.

As the organization tasked with overseeing the Commonwealth’s Mass Big Data Initiative, we are impressed with the exciting outcomes from Mass EduData Challenge and other recent civic tech challenges. Across Massachusetts, we see more and more government data sets opened to the public, providing new opportunities for residents to use their analytics and technical skills to further public good in education, transportation, and energy use. Thanks to Microsoft’s Innovation & Policy Center – New England for hosting this amazing conversation and for highlighting the Mass EduData Challenge!

You can view the photo album from the event here

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