Designing Reports Your Users Will Love

Data + design thinking rarely go hand-in-hand. But designing reports your users will love involves more than just creating a graph or chart. Designing intuitive, easy-to-use reports that engage users and enable data-driven decision-making requires taking a step back to ensure that your visualizations are addressing real user needs.

In our June webinar, Maggie Goulder and Jason Dolan from Schoolzilla shared how applying user-centered design methods can improve the usability of your reports and enable data-driven decision-making, with a focus on:

  • Identifying key questions that will help you discover user needs and insights.
  • Leveraging design thinking and ideation techniques to generate new ideas for building data dashboards and reports.
  • Learning how to rapidly prototype your ideas to discover which ones best address user needs.

If you weren’t able to join us, or would like to share the webinar with a colleague, please click below to watch the full webinar recording!

Additional resources about designing reports your users will love can be found here on Schoolzilla’s Data Champion Hub:

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Four Keys to Driving a Successful Change Management Strategy

Measuring the success of your change management initiative is critical in determining its effectiveness. Change management in education can be very difficult, whether you’re at a single-site charter school or a large traditional district. Bi Vuong, the former deputy CFO of the School District of Philadelphia (which she called “the District”), spoke at Schoolzilla’s Data Champion Summit. Vuong, now the director of Proving Ground at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, shared her own experience defining desired outcome measures and identifying the leading indicators necessary to drive the District’s strategy and improve enrollment.

To drive their change management initiative, the School District of Philadelphia established the following process to accelerate the transition and monitor progress against intended outcomes:

  1. Analyze district data to pinpoint exactly where the problems exist

  2. Develop a strategy that clearly addresses the problem

  3. Identify key outcome measures to define success

  4. Conduct rapid cycles of analysis to measure progress and refine the strategy

The School District of Philadelphia executed on this process to focus strategically on increasing enrollment at higher performing schools.

In 2014, the District had:

  • fewer than 50 percent of students reading at grade level by third grade
  • graduation rates were below 70 percent
  • closed twenty-four schools within one year
  • seen its enrollment decline by 60,000 students within the last twenty years

Vuong, who served at the District for over five years and most recently as its deputy chief financial officer said, “One of the superintendent’s goals was to get more kids college and career ready and [the other was to have] more kids reading at grade level.”  A strategy to help achieve these District-wide goals was to provide “the kids from the lowest performing schools the option of attending a higher-performing school,” Vuong said.

“We had high-performing schools with [available] space. We had students in underperforming schools.” To change this fact, the District more closely aligned its budget allocations to student enrollment. The number of teachers and the school’s budget were dependent upon the number of students enrolled.

Over the course of two years, the District continued to review and refine its processes to create alignment across the District, including:

  • adjusting enrollment dates to accept students earlier in the school year
  • developing a data structure with key stakeholders from the IT, HR, finance, and enrollment teams
  • monitoring student enrollment to measure how many students were applying to schools, getting accepted, enrolling, and actually showing up on the first day of school
  • adjusting a school’s budget based on the projected number of students who were expected to enroll on the first day of school

DSC_0511With the District’s enrollment strategy and technology tools in place, principals had easier access to data and could optimize their student acceptance decisions. Due in part to this initiative, the District had increased enrollment in higher performing schools between school year 2014–2015 and school year 2015–2016 by more than 7,000 students.

It took a year and a half for the School District of Philadelphia to develop, implement, and refine its change management initiative. According to Vuong, the key takeaways for defining and optimizing this change were:

  • deliberate planning to align cross-functionally with IT, student placement, and HR
  • collaboration, capacity building, and training to get people used to the new system and process
  • data, data, data. Vuong said, “We (the central office staff) used the exact same data that our principals saw and talked to them about it. [Our data] was very quick, very reliable, and very accessible.”

What problems is your organization working to solve? Do you have a strategy and outcome measures you have identified? Click here to share your thoughts and learn how other data champions are driving change management initiatives in their schools and/or districts.

Going Beyond Tableau With Schoolzilla

Good data visualization starts with two key ingredients: properly structured data and a great visualization tool. Schoolzilla provides school districts with the unique combination of a powerful data infrastructure and—via Tableau Software—an intuitive and beautiful data visualization tool. This combination allows district leaders to build and share the exact dashboards they need to answer the questions that matter most to serving their students.

Tableau is so great that sometimes we’re asked, “Why do we need Schoolzilla? Can’t we just do it all with Tableau?”

Think about the last time you created a bar chart in Excel, GooDatagle Sheets, or even Tableau. It only took you two seconds to press that bar chart button. But were you finished? Usually not. Most of the time, you realized that your data was not in the right format, didn’t have the right column names, or wasn’t at the right level of detail for that button to work. You ended up spending hours manipulating your data or using Jedi-level chart skills to get the chart you wanted. That’s because the data wasn’t properly structured.

In most schools, important data lives in 30 places or more. Schoolzilla brings that data together and transforms it into a data model that’s optimized for reporting. Without Schoolzilla’s data infrastructure, schools and districts will continue to spend 80% of their time organizing, connecting, massaging, and updating data to get it ready for Tableau to do its magic. We created Schoolzilla to eliminate the hours wasted in schools every day preparing data—and to give that time back to the data champions in school systems so they can push the frontiers of insight, usability, and data-driven action.

“Schoolzilla has enhanced our data work immeasurably. Our partnership with Schoolzilla has allowed us to provide real-time dashboards and analyses to our school leaders and staff. We used to build these reports by hand, using many different data sources. Now we have a centralized, live dashboarding platform.” —Edmund Han, Director of Data and Analytics, KIPP DC

Schoolzilla uses Tableau’s software for two primary reasons: to build our own out-of-the-box reports and to provide our partner organizations a way to build customized reports. But the ability to create and customize dashboards is only the top layer of Schoolzilla’s offering. Schoolzilla provides school systems with the technology and data solutions to make data visualization possible, including:

  • Time-Saving Data Integrations. Schoolzilla supports the time-intensive, ongoing, and costly work of maintaining the data connections required for your Tableau reports. If a state or vendor changes its file layout, Schoolzilla will do the work to make these layouts compatible with Schoolzilla. This ensures that reports that worked for last year’s state test will continue to work for current and future years.
  • Intuitive Dashboard Library. Schoolzilla offers beautiful out-of-the-box reports that we have built from the feedback and recommendations of teachers, principals, and data analysts. These reports are designed to be action-oriented, and they have been put to the test by organizations across the country.
  • Improved Data Quality. Schoolzilla supports our partners and school systems by helping them improve the quality of data in their systems. Schoolzilla does this by proactively identifying errors and ensuring that standard and custom reporting in these systems is accurate.
  • Effective Data Standardization. Schoolzilla transforms data from a variety of formats and different data systems that may be found in your organization into the same structure. This makes it much easier to build reports using data from multiple data systems (e.g., a SIS, blended learning tool, or an assessment).
  • Optimized Data Structure. Schoolzilla has years of experience working with education data and Tableau. We have learned how to best optimize data structures to empower sophisticated analysis using Tableau. Schoolzilla saves you the time once spent structuring your data with pivoting and manual reorganization, allowing you to get right to the analysis and reporting.
  • Secure Data Warehouse. We power your data through a secure, hosted data warehouse that puts all of your data in one place to help make sure it is only shared with the appropriate people serving students.
  • Customized Data Wall. Schoolzilla’s Data Wall enables you to manage and share the reports in your dashboard library so you can prioritize your most important reports, favorite the reports you find most useful, group reports by theme, project, or collection, and label reports so you can identify relevant trends and think about what to do next.

Together Schoolzilla and Tableau empower you with the tools to build, maintain, and share data visualizations that have an impact. Check out our online demo to see how easy it is to create your own dashboards with Schoolzilla.