KPIs: An Opportunity for Holistic Priorities?

As our K-12 accountability landscape shifts away from the No Child Left Behind act, which some complained was too narrowly focused on high stakes test scores and inadvertently incentivized educators to “teach to the test”, I am increasingly seeing efforts to redefine K-12 success in more holistic terms. Whether it’s the 11 civil rights organizations that wrote an open letter to President Obama calling for a focus on 8 features, which they assert are critical to building an effective accountability system, or the California DOE, which has named 8 key priority areas and directly tied those priority areas to district funding, the zeitgeist of the moment feels clear: data should be more than just test scores.

Factors that are adjacent to student achievement, such as student engagement and parental involvement are finding their way into the strategic plans of districts across the country. In researching these emerging trends and helping my team at Schoolzilla to develop a holistic and forthcoming set of KPI dashboards, I have encountered several examples of folks in the field who seem to be using KPIs well as well as a couple of white papers that provide guidance on KPI implementation for districts.


  • The now famous early adopters of the balanced scorecard system, Monroe County Schools in Georgia started using balanced scorecards back in 2002. Monroe County also uses continuous improvement plans to stay focused. These practices, used in tandem, have led to significant gains over the past decade.  
  • The CORE districts in California, which are a collection of 10 districts representing over 1 million students have banded together to focus on 8 CORE district metrics. This has allowed these districts to blend the benefits of benchmarking across common measures with the advantages of adopting a more holistic framework. This allows CORE districts to more easily see what drives results and collaboratively scale new strategies.
  • The School District of Philadelphia puts out school progress reports that break results out into 4 tiers (Intervene, Watch, Reinforce, Model) and cover categories such as Achievement, Progress (i.e., growth), Climate, College & Career Readiness, Progress on Equity and Educator Effectiveness. These categories highlight the importance of categories that are adjacent to student achievement and play a critical role in the overall success of the district.


  • Hanover Research put out a comprehensive report on Balanced Scorecard Best Practices, which can help you structure and implement Balanced Scorecards at your district.
  • The Alliance for Excellent Education highlights 4 important considerations to take into account when creating a holistic dashboard to manage district performance in this informative whitepaper.

If you have other KPI resources you’d to share with us or would like to learn more about the best practices we have encountered in the field, please reach out via the Talk to Schoolzilla link at the bottom of this page.

Talk to Schoolzilla




Considering an Ed Tech Vendor? Seven Factors that Matter Most for Success

Your school is preparing its budget for next year, and you’re interested in pushing forward on a new technology initiative. I’m stoked for you!

Before you do, consider seven factors. In our 3+ years of impact and customer success at Schoolzilla, these factors consistently predict success for a school’s new vendor initiatives (e.g., data warehouse or new formative assessment system). Ultimately, addressing these factors with your prospective vendor will help the initiative be successful, give you clout internally, and most importantly, benefit your students.

In this post, I’ll walk through each factor briefly, and in subsequent posts.

I’ll do a deep dive on each factor.

  1. Executive Sponsorship: Who is the leader at your organization allocating the budget and holding your team and the vendor accountable for ROI?
  2. Champion Capacity: What teammate(s) can devote time – especially up front – into learning and applying the initiative to your organization?
  3. Champion Expertise: Beyond capacity, do your internal champion(s) have the knowledge, experience, and insights with the domain / subject matter?
  4. Support Experience: When you run into a challenge, how accessible, knowledgeable, and approachable is the vendor’s support team?
  5. Product – Need Fit: Does your need (e.g., “see data in one place and get actionable insights”) match nicely with the main focus of the vendor (e.g., Schoolzilla)? Or conversely, are you trying to pigeon hole a product to meet a need that it is only tangentially related to its intended use?
  6. Trust in Product: Ultimately, can you trust the products that the vendor produces? Trust may come from various sources – e.g., prior success or deep orientation of the vendor’s processes.
  7. Culture: Are there some colleagues at all levels behind this investment? For example, if you’re purchasing a data warehouse, do your colleagues see data-driven conversations as a critical step to supporting students?

If you’d like to learn more about these factors, or would like to see rubrics developed by Schoolzilla or other school systems, please reach out.  Also, if you disagree or have other important factors, let us know. I’m happy to talk more!

Building Your Data Culture From the Bottom Up

Building a strong data-driven culture goes beyond a school’s willingness to use data to solve problems. Just like building a house, a school’s data culture needs to be built upon a solid foundation. To ensure you’re building something that is durable and sustainable, you need clear blueprints to outline your plans for developing and maintaining your school’s data culture.

Start from the bottom up with a strong foundation
Behind every great contractor is a team of people working on the ground level to get the job done. The same is true with building your data culture: you need buy-in from all your key stakeholders, executives, superintendents, principals, teachers and students.

“Data holds the key for institutions to create better outcomes for students by helping educators understand, why. Why did a student not graduate? Why did a student drop or fail a course? Why did a student not master a particular concept?” (Big Data in Education)

Having a clear understanding of your goals and values is essential to getting the buy-in of your school leaders. Your stakeholder’s time is precious and rare. If you have an hour of their lives, make it worthwhile and applicable to their school or position in that district. People often tune out information that is not immediately relevant or of interest to them.  Understand what goals they have set for their school/district/classroom, how they are measuring these goals, and what data they will subsequently be jumping out of their seats to see.

Building the framework
Without walls, your house lacks structure. Similarly, the framework of a successful data culture is built upon trust. Clean and accurate data to creates buy-in with your stakeholders. If you do foresee inaccuracies, set that expectation upfront. The two drivers here are that it can be challenging to plan with incomplete data and it can be alarming to see inaccurate data.

An attendance report that shows 20 out of 25 students might be enough information for a district-level analysis, but a teacher cannot accurately assess the culture in their classroom with this data. If there is an incorrect calculation on a recent assessment around the # of students on target it can affect how a teacher views the provided data. Reinforce that the onus is on school leaders and teachers to enter data accurately and readily so that you have a mutual stake in the reports being released. Be aware of what is cumbersome for school staff versus what is a good use of their time to gather. If you aren’t sure, ask for feedback whether in a survey or asking firsthand.

Hold it all together with a strong roof
Collaboration is the glue that holds a school’s data culture together.

“The purpose of using data is to raise questions and inform discussion rather than to dictate a course of action.” (Data-Driven Leadership, p. 120)

Data should be a conversation first. This can be done in break out groups. Groups can be assigned by grade level, subject matter, or whatever makes the most sense for your school. Avoid constraining the conversation. The value of conversations is the dynamic nature they can take which leads to a greater generation of ideas. We recommend providing prompts to begin these discussions:

  1. When you look at this report, what are you most proud of?
  2. What are you most concerned about?
  3. What questions do you have or what do you need to understand better?
  4. Which students and class periods are over performing?
  5. Which students and class periods are underperforming?