The concept of a “dashboard” is so ubiquitous in the business world that it’s easy to gloss over the etymology of the term that leadership teams use to describe the data visualization technology they use to monitor “key performance indicators,” or KPI. The concept of a “dashboard” was adopted to conjure notions of dials, blinking lights and gauges that we rely on in our cars everyday and that pilots use in their cockpits.
But now the education industry is increasingly adopting sophisticated but intuitive dashboards, as educators and administrators have “key performance indicators” of their own — everything from student achievement to academic performance and from fiscal health and budgeting to staffing and safety drill records.
Not only are these dashboards serving as more clear and accurate reporting of interconnected data points relative to education, equity and the allocation of resources (past events), many are adopting dashboards to use as early indicators of potential at-risk students and student populations (predictable but preventable future events).
The dashboards from which the software industry derived the term are designed to present the driver or pilot with both high-level displays of overall performance and engine health, as well as spring into action when something goes wrong or, in the case of a fighter pilot, the craft is coming under attack. The check engine light goes on in your car. The fighter pilot’s virtual dashboard begins to display only the crisis-relevant data points.
What if there was a “Check Student” light for the children in your district?
Attending the MASA Mid-Winter Conference? Visit our table near registration for a personalized demo of the Munetrix Student Dashboard!
How to Reverse Negative Trends Before they Result in a Child Left Behind
There is a growing appreciation for and understanding of the myriad contributing factors that can impact a child’s ability to learn and the desire to thrive in a school environment. Years ago, the only way we were to be informed of a student struggling in school was a record of past events: the report card, the assessment exam results, the call from the school.
But today, educators and administrators have access to much more information and such greater insights, we have the ability to see things happening in real time, to look at historical trend data, and to consider many more data inputs — social emotional learning, demographics, geographics, economics, discipline and behavior, attendance and truancy…the list goes on and on.
There’s just one problem. Absent an intuitive and sophisticated system accessing all of the relevant datasets at once, the educator has access to a wealth of information, but suffers from a poverty of knowledge.
Until recently, all of these streams of information were disconnected and disparate…what we call “siloed.” As a result, in order for an educator, administrator or counselor to gain insights into each every one of the potentially contributing factors, he or she would have to log into multiple systems, only virtually “overlay” the findings (not literally), and spot patterns, connect dots, and identify early indicators of risk on their own. And for multiple students. Using one’s own intuition.
This would be akin to a driver getting out of the car and checking the fuel tank, then all four tires’ air pressure, then the brake fluid reservoir, then the transmission fluid, then the radiator or coolant levels, and so on in order to get the complete picture of the car’s health or to understand why it just stalled. That sounds impossible — especially nowadays, when we can rely on the “Check Engine” light to alert us to an issue, then sophisticated software that can identify the cause and clearly report it to the driver.
Students, counselors, principals and administrators have plenty to do to fulfill their primary career obligations; it would be impossible to expect them to check all of these early indicators manually and continuously for all of the students they serve in their districts and classrooms each and every day. Which explains the growing adoption of systems that can perform district-side needs assessment, gap analysis and student progress at the macro level (whole district or whole building) or right down down to the individual student level.
Leveraging Data and Dashboards to Detect and Reverse Risk Factors
The most effective way to detect, monitor, report and correct a student or student population at risk is to examine the full lifecycle of contributing factors, as well as all of the data points that germinate or cultivate risk:
- The Future: Perform ongoing and regular needs assessments to identify student achievement gaps and trends across multiple assessments for the district, school and subgroups to identify areas of need to target continuous improvement strategies.
- The Present: Your system should also be able to easily perform progress monitoring, to implement the state-required K-12 Multi- Tiered System of Supports and to help your team to understand gaps or proficiencies in real time, as they happen, and while they can still be easily addressed.
- Past Events: Create or invest in a system that allows educators and administrators to easily and instantly generate a list of students who qualify for “31A At Risk” funding support, as required by the Michigan Department of Education, but which is also critical to identifying need and applying resources where critical — whether that be a specific student, a particular building, or across the district.
The most effective of these systems plug in both data streams proprietary to the school district itself as well as relevant data sources from contributing factors that occur outside of the classroom (such as demographics, equitable access, social and homelife issues, etc.).
That latter point is key: We should no longer ignore or discount the significance of the data points occurring outside of the school’s specific purview of education and student achievement.
What Should an Effective Student Dashboard Include?
“Using data to inform all of our practices in K12 education—from budget management to student instruction—is more important than ever,” says Paul Liabenow, Executive Director with The Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association (MEMSPA). “We must analyze the data that we find at our fingertips to make timely course corrections if our desired outcomes are not being met. Most importantly, we must use data to expose and correct inequities in our systems and immediately make changes for the benefit of our marginalized students.”
The “complete picture” for any given student, whether at-risk or not, would include these categorical data sets:
- Educational Performance and Progress
- Assessment Results
- Social Emotional Learning Benchmarking
- Demographics and Equity in Education
- Discipline and Behavior Data
- Attendance and Tardiness Reports
Only when accounting for the whole child and its myriad environmental influences are you able to connect dots, recognize patterns, identify trends and detect potential risk. One must understand how all of the various conditions and realities impact the child, which are interdependent, and where the correlations and causality lie.
A single counselor or student shouldn’t have to do that alone. Nor should one be expected to do so on top of all other obligations. Not when technology can do it for us…much quicker, at scale, and with easily accessible supporting data points hidden behind the warning signs.
If I were to simplify the guidance we provide for school districts implementing a student dashboard, it would be this:
- Get all of the relevant data sets into one system, or at least connected via API.
- Don’t ignore the data outside of the classroom and school buildings.
- Make sure that data can be visualized, not just tabulated.
- Make the reporting and warning easy, obvious and universally accessible.
The final digital display should be clean, intuitive, and easy to use and understand. Each data point should be “clickable,” so that the user can both see the big-picture student population data and drill down into granular detail per pupil, to understand the complete story and confidently draw conclusions relative to the interdependencies that reveal correlations between cause and effect.
The earlier signs of risk can be discovered, the sooner remediation can begin. The sooner interventive action can be taken, the more likely it is to be effective in reversing course. The easier it is to use, the more users will rely on it. Ultimately, the more children we save, the stronger our communities will be and the more fulfilling and impactful our own careers will become.
That’s what we should be asking and demanding of the systems that are helping us humans in educating our children and making sure none are left behind.