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Data Dashboards: Important Insights to Ensure Every Student Finds Their Spark

Written by
March 15th, 2018

Visualize your performance data for quicker, more informed decision-making across your educational community.

Data dashboards are popular in the corporate world, because they give executive decision-makers a clear window into real-time business performance. Dashboards pull data from different systems—such as customer relationship management, website analytics, inventory, logistics—and serve it up to show the results of key performance indicators (KPI) in digestible ways, so that action can proceed.

As data dashboards make their way into education, they serve a similar purpose for school districts whose stakeholders need visibility into academic, behavioral, and culture/climate data at the student, classroom, school, and district levels. To ensure continuous progress toward district or school goals, administrators can use dashboards to track KPIs such as attendance, literacy, test scores, and graduation rates.

What’s more, data dashboards can be accessible to the entire school community, not just administrative teams and governing boards. Dashboards can be used to empower teachers, parents, and students with actionable data—an especially important feature for traditionally underserved populations. This community-wide access ensures that every student is supported and does not fall through the cracks.

Many state departments of education have developed dashboards to help districts, schools, and the public understand overall student performance based on norm-referenced assessments and end-of-course exams. Most of these dashboards use end-of-the-year, aggregated data to communicate a school’s or district’s performance relative to others in the state or across the county. While this information is valuable, the static nature of the data makes it essentially “unactionable.” Educators need real-time information that can inform student-centered decisions.

Choosing Key Performance Indicators For Your Dashboards

While every district may be working toward similar strategic goals, methods of measuring progress towards those goals may differ. If a district is focusing on literacy at the 3rd grade level, for example, it might leverage results from adaptive assessments or use district standards as its metric. It’s important to select and vet appropriate measures that cascade from the district or school’s overall goals.

The need for district-wide coherence is fundamental in the use and development of KPIs. In the absence of clarity, continuous improvement measures will vary, and the ability to share best practices will be negated. Instead of fostering collaboration, a district may perpetuate and exacerbate professional-learning silos.

Furthermore, districts and schools should choose the right KPIs for each audience, so different stakeholders can review relevant information on a regular basis and correct course when necessary.

KPIs and data dashboards are valuable for students, as well as teachers and administrators. Haite’s research articulates that student ownership of their learning is the highest correlation indicator for student success, and giving students access to relevant data is a great way to increase their engagement.

What are students most interested in? They want to see their test scores and grades, reading fluency, mathematical prowess, attendance, and behavior metrics; furthermore, they want to know that the school provides a safe and positive learning environment. Having this information available, in the context of their personal learning objectives, will likely help more students take ownership of their own education.

Parents can also benefit from a dashboard view of their children’s progress and attendance. Real-time data dashboards provide a window into a student’s world that parents are otherwise unaware of. Such a tool can empower many parents to help and advocate for their children.

For educators, a real-time data dashboard supports a holistic approach to student education. Educators need to know about their students’ academic progress and areas of need, assessment results, test scores, perceptions and dispositions, and behavioral data such as attendance and disciplinary actions. It’s important that this data be disaggregated down to the individual student level, so that positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) can be applied.

Administrative leaders want similar data, but they’ll often need to look at it by significant subgroups (e.g., English Learners, African-American males) to help ensure equitable outcomes across the district. Closing the achievement gap is a moral imperative, but the lack of a real-time data dashboard increases the workload of leaders and diverts focus from creating student-centered decisions.

As you plan your different data dashboards, reflect and dialogue with vested stakeholders about the metrics that matter most for each group and rank them in priority order. Ask yourself, which metrics and strategies are most likely to close the achievement gap and ensure that every student finds his or her spark?

Ultimately, you want every stakeholder reviewing high-level data on a regular basis to facilitate individual and collaborative adjustments when necessary. The goal is for everyone in the school community to use data to maximize their contribution to the success of the student, classroom, school, and district.

Building Your Dashboards

Ideal data dashboards automatically and securely connect to your data in real time, for continuous, automatic updating. Your dashboards should be easily accessible via a web browser, so everyone who needs to view the data can do so from virtually any location.

Building a successful and actionable data dashboard requires an application programming interface (API) with each of the systems you currently use for student information, assessments,  and learning management. This can be done manually, but it’s much easier with an integrated data analytics system.

However you make it happen, if you’re interested in closing the achievement gap and ensuring that all students in your district find their gifts and talents, you must make a commitment to implementing data dashboards as soon as possible. Get started now and please let me know how it helps your students.


Illuminate Education is a provider of educational technology and services offering innovative data, assessment and student information solutions. Serving K-12 schools, our cloud-based software and services currently assist more than 1,600 school districts in promoting student achievement and success.

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.

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  1. John Endahl on April 9, 2018 at 5:38 am


    This is a great article. It gives an excellent overview of data dashboards, and how they can be used in education. I especially appreciated the specific example you provided, with the various metrics. What was missing was the answer to the question, “How can Illuminate meet this data dashboard need?” How disappointing to find a generic “You need an API…”. I have great hope that the new IQ features will begin to bridge this gap, and allow us to use Illuminate as a dashboard solution (the data is already in there, we just need to ability to generate the data views). We also need the ability to push a student dashboard for the student and parents via the Illuminate portal.

    –> John

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