Big Data Could Play a Role in Improving Education

But ensuring the data’s accuracy is critical.

The Brookings Institution published an interesting paper yesterday on the use of big data in education. In it, Brookings vice president Darrell M. West discussed the uses of real time analytics to help shape and guide education policy in the future. For West, data analytics were essential to evaluating school performance and providing educators with feedback:

“It is apparent that current school evaluations suffer from several limitations. Many of the typical pedagogies provide little immediate feedback to students, require teachers to spend hours grading routine assignments, aren’t very proactive about showing students how to improve comprehension, and fail to take advantage of digital resources that can improve the learning process. This is unfortunate because data-driven approaches make it possible to study learning in real-time and offer systematic feedback to students and teachers.”

West said smart data analysis could improve transparency and accountability in schools where administrators and educators were looking to increase students’ grades on standardized tests.

He suggested the use of dashboards for fast and up-to-date performance assessment. He pointed out the Education department’s dashboard as an example of how governments and schools could use real time data on their policy in action.

Dashboards are definitely a great way to quickly visualize, interpret and process data, but they must be based on credible data to be effective for the end user.  In the past, the federal government’s dashboard for IT-spending has been criticized  for being inaccurate, and one can assume the many pitfalls that lie with educational data. As the Columbia Journalism Review argued in May, education data has been known to be flawed, inflated and misleading. Having this type of data is definitely a start for better education policy, but it shouldn’t be the lynchpin behind an effective approach.