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Building Capacity for Data Use

Duffy, H., Hannan, S., O’Day, J., & Brown, J. (2012). Building district capacity for data-informed leadership. Available at California Collaborative on District Reform website:

This brief about the partnership between Fresno Unified School District (USD) and Long Beach USD explores the ways that two districts pushed one another to deepen the culture of data use within and across districts, addressed infrastructure challenges, and provided support as they navigated public conversations about student outcomes. The document illustrates how two districts built their collective capacity to look at student outcomes and leading indicators such as course transcripts and formative assessment scores to uncover root causes for achievement patterns and develop solutions to common challenges. This example of collaboration can inform schools and districts across the country as they develop tools and processes to access and use data for decision making. Although the brief shares lessons from a partnership that has changed substantially in the time since it was written, the lessons laid out in this piece continue to be relevant as the California education community explores issues of capacity for data use.

Newman, E. & Baharav, H. (2018). Where data lead, success follows: Rural California districts band together to focus on college readiness. The Learning Professional, 39(5), 54–59. Available at

This article tells the story of the Post-Secondary Strengthening Collaborative, a partnership between the Humboldt County Office of Education, the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities, and other education leaders in Humboldt who are seeking to improve the K-12 outcomes of their students. The Gardner Center trained members of the collaborative, which eventually included eight school districts and higher education partners, to use cycles of inquiry and a set of College Readiness Indicator Systems principles developed by the Gardner Center and its research partners to identify and understand issues with student performance and analyze them from the individual, setting, and system perspectives. The author describes some of the challenges the members faced initially, such as hesitancy to share their work with each other openly, and some early successes, such as one high school changing its credit recovery process to better meet the expectations of local higher education institutions. The authors also share some lessons learned for developing cross-agency partnerships, like developing a plan for when the funding source changes or ends, continuing momentum and trust as individual members change, and working with members who have limited time to fully engage.

Pak, K., & Desimone, L. M. (2019). Developing principals’ data-driven decision-making capacity: Lessons from one urban district. Phi Delta Kappan, 100(7), 37–42. doi: Available at 10.1177/0031721719841337

This piece summarizes research conducted in an anonymous urban school district that led a series of professional development workshops to build principal capacity in data-driven decisions making and in using the district’s interactive data dashboard. The authors highlight four recommendations that came out of their data collection efforts. First, principals shared that early training sessions should have clear objectives and intended outcomes, and that there should be opportunities to follow up on what they learned after the sessions are over. Second, district leaders described the importance of preparing for pushback from principals who are being asked to do new things and follow new expectations that often go against the typical culture of the school district. The authors also recommended that districts be prepared for principals to make suggestions on how to improve the dashboard; during the study, the district put every principal in contact with the data analyst and programmers at the central office for this purpose. Last, the most powerful experiences for the principals came from an environment of trust and continual learning, suggesting that district leaders should be considered partners in, not supervisors of, learning.