Driven by Data

Three Best Practices for Creating Action-Oriented Dashboards

As more and more data is made available to educators, data dashboards are increasingly hailed as one-stop, silver bullet solutions to school problems. Despite investing money and staff time into data visualization software and dashboard development, end-users (principals, instructional coaches, and teachers) often don’t find the information useful. We believe that dashboards are not a solution on their own. It’s the analysis and communication of the data that makes it useful to educators and directs their time, passion and attention.

Below are three key strategies we recommend to create a dashboard that best supports instructional staff. 

1)  Design it for a specific meeting.

When starting the process of creating a dashboard, the tendency is to try to incorporate all metrics broken down by all subgroups over as many years as possible. This one-size-fits-all approach is often unwieldy and difficult to make sense of. It can be especially confusing for those who are unaccustomed to interpreting data. 

Instead, a great first step is to think about what staff meeting your dashboard can support. Is it your weekly attendance meeting? A grade level team? A deep dive into interim assessment results? Once the audience is identified, you can focus on the most important metrics and student groups to analyze. This simplifies the design process and focuses the dashboard on the key messages it should deliver.  

 2)  Design it for a specific action. 

The goal of a good dashboard is to enable educators to make immediate, data-driven decisions by identifying where the greatest needs are. Which student families do we need to call about attendance? What classroom needs support for behavior? Which classrooms have the lowest-performing students in ELA? Where should the principal spend their time? If your team needs additional clarifications or further breakdowns after looking at the dashboard, it may not be action-oriented enough.

 3)  Design it to talk about students. 

Even though educators personally know and understand their students, it can still be difficult to find meaningful takeaways from general trends. Design your dashboard to make the connection between aggregate numbers and what it means for students in the classroom. Is attendance low because a lot of students are missing a few days of school, or are a few students missing a lot of days? What can we learn from how many students are making above average or below-average growth in this classroom? Which students have more than one behavior referral? 

If your school isn’t getting what it needs from your data dashboards, try these three strategies to create more useful visualizations. Abandoning the “one dashboard for everything” mindset will enable your team to make timely, data-driven decisions.

[This post contributed by Dan Wick, Data Specialist.]