10 Questions to Ask Before You Build a Report for Your Schools

When building a report, it’s easy to get lost in your own exploration. But ideally, reports will be used in classrooms, main offices, parent-teacher conferences, and the central office—not just your desk. Make sure your report informs the decisions being made for students by asking the right questions up front.

Start your report with some of these questions;

  • Who will be using it?  Teachers may prefer detailed, student-level data so they can focus on their classrooms. School leaders need to slice school-level data both vertically and horizontally across grade levels and subjects. District leaders often ask for aggregate data they can drill into as necessary. (Tip: think about whether each party’s view should be restricted to his/her own classroom, school, etc. or whether staff should be able to view each other’s data.)
  • What action should they be equipped to take with the data you provide?  Reports, at their best, both inspire and enable action. Your office managers should be able to call truant students’ homes? Include telephone numbers. Principals should be able to coach their teachers mid-semester? Include both classroom performance and growth so they can tailor conversations around trends, not just scores.
  • When and where will they be using it? Think about protecting student information when reports will be used publicly or in meetings. Consider font size, simplicity, and mobile-responsiveness when reports will be used on the go.
  • How often will they want to use it? If it’s everyday data like attendance for office managers, that report is likely to be a must-have, so give them all the details! If it’s annual data (like most state tests), it’s likely to be high stakes, so build in context for in-depth analysis.
  • Where does the data live and how will this report get refreshed? The reports you build are as only as good as the data they convey. If you need fresh data often, consider connecting to a live source like a data warehouse instead of static (and time-consuming) spreadsheets.
  • How are they going to feel when they look at it? Planning a staff meeting? Share low scores in with specific individuals in private beforehand so they aren’t put on the spot– or display data in aggregate and have those conversations later. Avoid bright reds and greens unless you want to convey strong concerns and big wins.
  • Is it intuitive? Not everyone lives and breaths data, so build in guides where others might get confused. Small “click here” text boxes will make a world of difference for those not used to exploreable reports. A short explanation of a RIT score will engage parents whose kids just took NWEA MAP for the first time.
  • What can you take out? Before you publish, edit heavily. After all, if a teacher can’t make sense of it within five minutes over his 7:00am coffee, it won’t get used.
  • Is the data clean? Even if you build a spectacular report, dirty data will render it “broken” to your viewers– especially if you’re debuting it for the first time. Make sure they can trust what they see by reviewing data quality before you share and monitoring regularly.
  • How will you know how to make it better? Formalizing a way for people to share feedback will not only help you improve your reports, it’ll give you well-earned buy-in from your colleagues. If you listen well and respond to their needs, your colleagues will start reaching for your report and asking for even more data insights.

For those of you working on behalf of schools, what would your #11, #12, and #13 be? I’d love to hear how your thoughts might apply to Schoolzilla’s standard reports. Check them out here.

Data Visualizations that Enable Discovery in Schools

Viewers usually come to data visualizations with a question. Good visualizations answer that question. Great ones answer that question in a way that sparks more questions. The best visualizations answer the question, spark more questions, and answer those too.

Dan Murray, Director of Strategic Innovation at Interworks and Tableau “Zen Master”, is an expert at this. He’s built Tableau dashboards for a range of organizations wanting to use BI data more successfully, all with the goal of “enabling discovery” for the viewer. At Schoolzillla, we’ve seen similar success at school districts that do the same for teachers and principals.

An insight into the Chronic Absence Toolkit for District Leaders

Toolkit (1)

For a superintendent to get the most out of this report, it was important that he/she be able to explore the data independently. Just see how Dan’s top three “enabling discovery” tips applied:

  • Use filters and parameters: Filters allow you to narrow the scope of the data (e.g. by school year) and reach a more precise answer to your question. Similarly, parameters allow the viewer to explore the data using the factors that matter most to him/her (e.g. demographics).

filter parameter


gender parameter

(Notice how we narrowed the data to the 2014-15 school year and split the report by gender to compare chronic absence rates between male and female students.)

  • Tell more with tooltips: Tooltips allow you to offer lots of granularity without overcrowding the view. And for viewers who need to recognize individual data points before they trust the overall visualization, tooltips are a nice way to ground them. (Districts who have done this will tell you that data quality is especially important here: if the data’s incorrect, many viewers will decide the entire report is “broken”. Don’t waste your first impression with poor data quality!)
  • Pull it all together into a dashboard: Your data tells a story if you compile different perspectives into the same dashboard. This dashboard allows you to look at average daily attendance (ADA) against chronic absence rates at the same time so you know how chronically absent students are affecting your ADA rates. While each metric is important, they become infinitely more powerful when shown in the same frame.

If you’re interested in exploring this report in more detail (including a student-level attendance dashboard used by office managers across the country) request access here.

And if you’d like to try these tricks out on your own, Dan’s releasing a new edition of his Tableau how-to, Tableau Your Data!: Fast and Easy Visual Analysis with Tableau Software, a great resource for anyone learning to build reports in Tableau Desktop.

For teachers and principals, simple, exploreable reports using these tips can enable discovery and most importantly, empower action on behalf of your students.

A Data Champion’s Reading List

In the month since Data Champion Summit, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this year’s conferencethinking about the insightful conversations between Data Champions at the lunch table, remembering the powerful panel discussions with St. Louis Public Schools, KIPP Bay Area, and Harvard (just a few of many), and visiting the Data Champion HUB to find more information about the sessions I couldn’t attend.

One common theme throughout Summit was the collaboration amongst Data Champions. Every session provided an opportunity for Data Champions to share information, from what’s working in their district to how they designed custom reports to solve a problem. And that’s not all, they even exchanged book recommendations!

Some of the featured books in no particular order…

Want to share your favorites? Continue the conversation here on the HUB.

Happy reading!

How districts can use Title I and Title III funds to implement systems to collect, manage, and analyze assessment data

6736158045_6eb22f6d83_zAt Schoolzilla, we sometimes receive questions from districts about which funding pools they can use to fund their data efforts. To that end, we thought it’d be helpful to share a few pointsfrom the US Secretary of Education made in a guidance letter sent to Chief State School Officers on February 2, 2016. This letter is a follow-up to the Testing Action Plan released in October 2015 and illustrates how districts can use Title I and Title III funds to implement “systems to collect, manage, and analyze assessment data” aka comprehensive data platforms, like Schoolzilla.

Please see the excerpt below or read the letter in full, here.

Guidance from the Secretary of Education on how to use Title I and Title III funds to improve data use in your district:

  1. A district might reserve ESEA Title I-A funds off the top of its Title I allocation to help educators in Title I schools learn to manage and analyze student data in order to improve instruction and decision-making for school improvement efforts.
  2. A Title I school operating a schoolwide program, to the extent it is consistent with its comprehensive needs assessment, might develop and implement a data system to track student progress on classroom- or district-based formative and interim assessments to provide educators with comprehensive information about each student’s progress
  3. A district might use funds under ESEA Title III to analyze data from its annual English language proficiency assessment in order to tailor supports for individual English learners.

A district might reserve ESEA Title I-A funds off the top of its Title I allocation to provide targeted information to teachers in Title I schools to better support the needs of low-achieving students by breaking down assessment results into discrete areas of strength and deficit and designing instructional modules to address specific deficits.

Edtech Trends: Seeing K-12 Education Through a Different Lens


For the past year, EdSurge has been researching key trends that are driving the K-12 edtech market through the lenses of its community of educators, administrators, entrepreneurs, investors, and policy makers. Schoolzilla is excited to have our CEO, Lynzi Ziegenhagen, featured as one of the subject matter experts spotlighting the importance of teaching social emotional learning to prepare students with the life skills needed to succeed in college and careerLynzi comments, “social-emotional measures are becoming more widespread and are even starting to be used in actual accountability measures.” 

Today in the first chapter of The State of Edtech, EdSurge has identified their top eight trends: infrastructure, learning models, computer science, student assessments, data privacy, professional development, edtech business models.

This project aims to let you try on different lenses in looking at K-12 education in the US. We will give you perspectives from different stakeholders on the trends and forces shaping how money is invested, how tools are created and how schools are designing teaching and learning experiences.” (The State of EdTech, 2016).

Learn more about K-12 edtech trends identified by EdSurge here.