Using Data Dashboards Effectively

Posted on August 20, 2019 by David Niguidula

For a long time, data was difficult to access in schools. Plenty of us still remember “permanent records,” filed away in locked cabinets.

Now, there’s a lot of data about each student – from the main schedules and attendance stored in student information systems to the test scores and information in each teaching app. Part of the issue, of course, is putting all of this data together, and making it useful. While there are many efforts to make it easier to collect and transfer this data, the more interesting question is, “why?”

New tools make it easy to create data dashboards – but determining what data should go into a dashboard, and how various audiences will use it is where schools need to focus.

In a recent webinar ,  we discussed three essential questions of creating effective data dashboards.

What data do we want to show? To answer this question, we really need to think about the purpose and audience. The point of the data is to provide some insights for students, teachers, parents and/or administrators. It helps, then, to establish a question you want to answer, such as:

  • Are our students on track to graduate?
  • How do we improve our students’ math skills? [or any other subject area]
  • How do we increase attendance?

You’ll want to gather the relevant data from the various sources: student information systems, test score providers, data from apps. You may also want to consider qualitatiave as well as quantitiatve information: do you have any samples of student work or teacher assignments that could be important to collect?

How do we help students set goals based on that data?

Gathering the data is just the first step. The key step is helping the members of your school community use that data to help individual students. It’s one thing to report out the average score for the 8th grade class, or to show an overall improvement in attendance. It’s another thing for each individual student to be able to look at and analyze his or her own information.

When students look at say, attendance, do they have thoughts on what happened on the days they were absent or tardy ? Are there patterns that come up? (For example – on the days AFTER a snowstorm, it may be more difficult to physically get to school on time if a specific neighborhood isn’t cleared out.)

It’s possible, then, for students to set goals an individual learning plan by looking over their data and doing a little reflection on what the grades and test scores and attendance patterns mean.

What targets can we set?

Some goals are best set for the community as a whole. In many states, each school receives a “state report card,” based on multiple factors. Sometimes, the formulas can be quite complex. It’s worth digging deeper and to try to translate those algorithms into a reasonable target.

To take a specific example, one school was trying to move up a level on the state’s “star” rating system. The formula for the test score component of the state report card required translating student scores first into a 1 to 4 scale, and then figuring out what percentage of students scored a 1, 2, 3, and 4, and THEN using a multiplier to translate those percentages into a “performance index.” Somewhere hidden in there, our analysis figured out that getting 60% of the students to one score and another 20% of students to the next level will raise the whole school’s star rating (at least for that component). The point is that we turned a vague, “let’s move up in the ratings” to a concrete question of “how do we get 60% of our students to this level of proficiency?”

It’s mentioned above, but the recent webinar  will help you visualize what a sample data dashboard can look like. Please feel free to take a look and add to our discusssion!

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