20 Educators Schooled Me On Data-Driven Instruction

on August 23, 2017 in data analysis, data visualization

This summer I got to participate in a gathering of school administrators to collaborate on:

  • Finding time for K-12 data initiatives
  • Shifting from labor-intensive analysis to data visualization
  • Positioning software and staff to be "Future Ready" 

Before talking about how data could best impact student outcomes, it was clear that the collaborators first wanted to discuss the major hurdles getting in the way.

So, we threw out the agenda, I took a passenger’s seat next to district administrators, and here’s what they taught me about data visualization.

You know what MY problem with school data is!?

School administrators began by identifying their own data challenges, taping them onto the whiteboard for an "ed-camp" style brainstorming. As each participant identified their obstacles, three major themes started to emerge:

Top 3 problems with data in K-12 schools are:

  • 34% felt their school had too many edtech systems that weren't sharing data
  • 50% experienced difficulty with access and visibility
  • 67% had a hard time understanding the data available to them

For all of these reasons, data visualization proved to be the right topic for the day. If we could successfully transform spreadsheets into common-sense infographics, the "lack of understanding and access" issue could go away.

School Systems: Siloed + Slow = Ineffective!

Words like "unreliable", "too much added work", and "annoying" caused lots of nodding heads. It seemed like everyone shared the frustration of collecting information across multiple systems that weren’t fully integrated.


One administrator spoke specifically to the difficulty of running reports for data in one system, only to turn around and try to have it make sense in comparison to information pulled in a different format from another program (making the visualization of data impossible). This common practice is the main culprit behind school district data being way too slow.

“When data is too slow, it’s only documenting what we have done, instead of driving what we do!” -Tre Gonzalez

To overcome this issue, the next segment of our day was focused on the techniques and tools we needed to begin visualizing our data.

Can Data Start to Drive Decisions?

Empathizing on struggles was helpful, but execution is what matters. We broke into small groups with the intention of doing a simulated "data scavenger hunt" inside of a district that had successfully visualized their data on an interactive online dashboard. Administrators were given less than two minutes of training before they were cut loose to identify student data anomalies hidden in thousands of data points across hundreds of students in three ficticious schools.

Some of the questions were:

  • We tweaked our middle school ELA curriculum last year; what impact did it have on our ELA scaled and claim scores?
  • At a school board meeting, a parent complained that Latino students are disproportionately written up. Does the data support this assertion?
  • What was the Average Daily Attendance of the elementary school in April 2017?

What happened next? Every school leader completed nine data challenges in under twenty minutes! It was shocking to see the power of easy to understand, interactive visualizations of data – compared to the antiquated (and painful) practice of traditional analysis. Every participant was successful in swiftly navigating through data visualization of behavior, academics, state testing, demographics, attendance, staff, etc.

Talk about taking data from slow and unreliable static data points, to lightning-fast and insanely meaningful visualization of information!

k12 school data visualization analysis 

Want to know more? You can download this comprehensive eBook that explains everything you need to know about the shift from analysis to data visualization for K-12 schools! Just click the button below:

Data visualization for K12 schools eBook