Back-to-School Data Wins: Tip #3 Demonstrate You’re on Their Side

We are back with the next Back-to-School Data Win.  If you’re just catching up now, check out Tip #1 Clean Slate with Clean Data and Tip #2 Build in Data Literacy Basics.


Tip #3: Demonstrate that You’re on Their Side

Many educators and school system staff have an uneasy relationship with data. Maybe it’s been used to penalize or judge them in the past. Perhaps it’s intimidating. Or it may simply feel disconnected from the other work they do on a daily basis. Whatever the case may be, assume that some of your colleagues don’t feel as comfortable with data as you do. And, until they trust the data you give them itself, show them that they can trust you

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Surprises can make people feel nervous or disregarded, so put them at ease by setting expectations clearly multiple times in a few different venues.
  • Share data before meetings. Everyone processes differently, let folks review results and generate questions before a live discussion. This is especially true for high-stakes data: with the element of surprise eliminated, everyone will have more emotional and mental bandwidth to engage constructively.
  • Save them time. What’s the single most precious resource in a school or central office? Ask around and your winner might well be: time! Find the data tasks that consume a lot of time and offer them a solution! 
  • Express data quality confidence, not perfection. You want your audience to trust their data— but data quality is an ongoing process, and you need help to uncover errors! Walk the line between confidence and humility, and provide a clear process for reporting data errors.
  • Make conservative promises. It’s tempting to agree to everything asked of you, but exceeding modest expectations is much better than scrambling to meet ambitious ones.
  • Respond to all feedback. Even if you can’t give an answer set expectations for when you can. If you have to decline, explain why and offer a work-around. In all cases, thank people for their suggestions––this is what data engagement looks like, so ask them to keep it up!
  • Act on data insights. Someone used data and found an opportunity to improve. Hurray!  But your job is not yet done; now reward their efforts with action. One school district in South Carolinian made a special effort to act upon the observations and ideas that principals found in their data. “Principals quickly noticed that girls were performing at higher levels than boys in English language arts, and boys were performing at higher levels than girls in math”, their testing coordinator recalled. “In response, the district brought in a consultant who’s showing teachers new techniques for more effective math instruction.”

Back-to-School Data Wins: Tip #2 Build in Data Literacy Basics

Hopefully you learned about how to get a good start to the school year with clean data from last week’s Back-to-School Data Wins Tip #1 Clean Slate with Clean Data.

Tip #2: Build in Data Literacy Basics

This week we’re focused on data literacy basics.  We can’t assume that everyone in the room is immediately familiar with a scale score…or even a small n-size. Set your entire team up for success by building in data literacy instruction that helps make insights clear to all.

  • Choose intuitive systems. You can make a big difference from the beginning by picking displays that feel natural on sight. For example, anyone in the U.S. is likely to understand “stoplight colors”: green for at grade level or above, yellow for at-risk, and red or pink for below grade level. 
  • Create intuitive reports. If you’re designing  homemade visualizations, make it clear which information they display, what they’re used for, and what data points indicate. For example, label reports with the questions they answer (e.g. “how many students in each grade were absent this week?”)
  • Scaffold data interpretation. During data days, meetings, or presentations, demonstrate what you see in the data, what you conclude, and what questions you’ll ask as a result. Then transition to an analysis tool like the 8 Essential Questions. It’ll help your team develop a curious attitude about data.
  • Differentiate instruction. Just as with students, adults don’t learn in the same ways. So offer information in different forms: consider live trainings, staff portals, office hours, support lines, or a help email.  The easier you make it for all learners to improve their data use, the more they will.

Back-to-School Data Wins: Tip #1 Clean Slate with Clean Data

Back-to-school is a great time to start the year off on the right foot when it comes to data. Why? You’re welcoming new students who will learn new things in new classrooms with new teachers. What’s more, your staff is also thinking about this year as turning over a new leaf. They must learn to effectively support many new students as soon as possible.

You have a fresh start, both with your data and with the people who use it. Over the next few weeks we will be sharing a series of back-to-school tips for data leaders who want to make the most of the season.

Back-to-school season can be hectic, but putting in the extra effort with your data will make for a great year to come. The more you lay the right groundwork now, the more your district will be able to access, understand, analyze, and act on it!

Let’s get started with Tip #1: Clean Slate with Clean Data:

Before you share data with anyone, you need to be confident that it’s accurate. That’s especially true now because your colleagues’ first experience with the data can have a lasting impact. If they can’t trust it at the beginning, it may be hard to regain that confidence later in the year.

Of course, every school has some data issues! That’s natural. The trick is to set up systems––both high-tech and people-powered––to minimize errors in your data. Plus, most of these practices will save your data team time as well!

  • Set-up automated systems. Whenever possible, choose a single source of truth so data entry has to be done only once. That might mean using a roster-syncing service like Clever or an SSO provider like Okta, Active Directory, OneLogin, or Google.
  • Choose live integrations over static ones. Regular data refreshes (whether via API, ODBC, FTP, or some other form) prevent data sets frozen in time from creating version control issues.
  • Choose products that match records based on multiple data points.  For example, if your data warehouse matches SIS and assessment data on either a student ID or a state ID, then you don’t have to worry as much about missing student IDs in your assessment platform. Although you may want to go back and correct that, this feature means more accurate data in the meantime. 
  • Cultivate data neatniks. Align on the reporting level needed before creating data entry norms. Doing so will help you straddle the tension between educator autonomy and organization-wide reporting that often results in either poor data quality or a lack of investment in data entry procedures. 
  • Consider how data could help day-to-day.  Do the people managing data entry utilize those data too? With a clear understanding of the consequences of poor data quality, you’re likely to see higher engagement in proper data entry.
  • Hire for attention to detail, experience with databases, and a strong sense of ownership.  Develop high-quality trainings and documentation, especially if you have high turnover in data entry positions. Be sure to make troubleshooting tips and helpline supports clear alongside data entry instructions.

September is Attendance Awareness Month

September is Attendance Awareness Month and we hope you take some time to reflect on what you can do to help get your students to school every day.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the national average a student spends in a classroom is 6.7 hours a day. Research from our friends at Attendance Works indicates that missing just 2 days of school a month means a child misses 10% instruction time for the school year.  Student attendance is one of the most common predictors of academic achievement and it is critical that students attend school, on time, every day in order to gain the greatest benefit from their education.

We want to partner with you to make attendance a priority all year long so you can help your students build a habit of good attendance early and often.  Good attendance contributes to students doing well in school and eventually the workplace.

Below are just a few ways Schoolzilla’s Mosaic can help you track trends in attendance and understand where you can provide support within your district’s schools and classrooms. For more information, talk to us today!



*All images of above contain fake data and real ways you can look at it in Mosaic.


Encourage Students to Dream

I heard a very inspiring keynote today at the New York DATAG Summer Conference.  Dr. John Hodge of the Urban Learning and Leadership Center in Virginia spoke about how important a caring adult can be to student success.  He went on to share a fascinating story about his childhood and growing up in North Carolina. The boys in his neighborhood went to school together from kindergarten through high school.  However, despite growing up together on the same block, being friends, and going to the same schools until high school, the boys had very different outcomes as adults. Half of the group – the “successful” ones – became businessmen, a doctor, and an educator. The other half had tragic outcomes with one serving 25 years to life in prison; another serving a life sentence; one out on parole; and one dead.  It’s hard to imagine how these boys that grew up together on the same block, attending the same schools, can have such different outcomes in life. In digging into the data around these boys, it was discovered that the “successful” group all had the same 5th grade teacher. And she cared about her students. She would drive to their neighborhood and visit with the boys and their families after school. She would tell parents about the potential she saw in their son – that their boy had what it takes to go to college. She wanted them to follow their dreams.

Dr. Hodge had a powerful message about how we want what’s better than the data for our students and that there are people behind the data.  As parents, educators, school leaders, and data leaders, it is our job to focus on systemic strategies for school systems and encourage our students to dream!  

Dig Into Performance Distribution with Mosaic’s Latest Feature, Metric Zoom

Mosaic’s latest feature, Metric Zoom, lets district and school leaders quickly discover patterns about how many students are exceeding, meeting or below expectations. With Mosaic’s Metric Zoom functionality, you can dive in to understand systemic trends and performance distribution patterns for key metrics, answering questions such as:

  • How has performance changed over time?
  • Has distribution of at-risk students improved since we started working on this problem?
  • How does this vary within a specific demographic group, grade level or school?

Put another way, once you’ve identified an overarching issue, Metric Zoom lets you further triage root cause in order to target your interventions and resources. Hear how one of our district partners, Newberg Public Schools, paused to dig deep into their chronic absence data, what they discovered, and what steps they took to address chronic absenteeism.

Please note: The below image of Chronic Absence distribution — comparing by school from last year’s April to this year’s April — shows sample data for demonstration purposes.

Using Data to Uncover Surprising Attendance Insights

We are very grateful to be working with such amazing district partners like Newberg Public Schools in Portland, Oregon.  In looking at their data in their Mosaic District Progress Monitoring platform, district leaders found some surprising insights in their attendance data that led them to conduct empathy interviews with certain student groups in an effort to reduce chronic absenteeism.  

Watch the below video and hear from Dr. Luke Neff, Director of Instructional Technology, on how they use data to make better decisions for their students.


Beyond College Applications – Using GPAs to Help Students and Schools

You may be familiar with the use of grade point averages (GPA) in summarizing an individual student’s achievement levels – particularly when it comes to college admissions. But did you know this metric can also help schools spot and support struggling students, and allow administrators and educators to monitor the progress of schools and subgroups?

In our white paper, we provide insights as to what GPA can be an indicator of as well as potential uses for the GPA metric that many may not initially think of:

  • Improving school performance and culture
  • Ensuring equity across classes and subgroups within and across schools
  • Targeting interventions for specific students

Read More

New Research – Districts at Work Series

Our friends at Education Resource Strategies created the Districts at Work series of case studies to highlight ways districts successfully connected planning to implementation to get their initiatives working for schools and students. Several initiatives studied include:

  • Improved early literacy
  • Enhanced social and emotional learning
  • More equitable access to rigorous coursework

Read more about this work and how one of our district partners, KIPP Bay Area, supported their principals in planning for the school budget.


ERS is a national non-profit that partners with district, school, and state leaders to transform how they use resources (people, time, and money) so that every school prepares every child for tomorrow, no matter their race or income.


How Do You Address Undermatching?

We love hearing stories about schools going above and beyond to help their students succeed.  A recent article from Chalkbeat features Achievement First, a network of public charter schools, and how they are looking to use scholarships as a way to address the problem of undermatching.  

Undermatching is a phenomenon that researchers use to describe how high-achieving low-income students often don’t apply to schools that match their academic qualifications.  Instead, many of these students end up at institutions well below their academic ability.  Achievement First will offer scholarships to students who opt to go to a more expensive school with a higher graduation rate for black and Hispanic students in an effort to relieve some of the financial burden and anxieties for their families.  We are excited to see schools like Achievement First trying to find new ways to support their kids beyond high school.

Read the full story here.


Achievement First is a network of public charter schools, serving over 13,300 students in 36 schools in five cities across Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island. The majority of students are Black, Latino, and children from low-income families who will be the first in their families to graduate from college. 

We are a #ForceForGood!

We are honored to be named one of the inaugural Real Leaders’ Top 100 Impact Companies!  Real Leaders, in collaboration with Big Path Capital and B Lab, selected finalists based on companies that have shown actual economic growth by including the greater good in their mission and business strategies.  Read the full report and learn more about how Schoolzilla ranked among 99 other companies that are a #ForceForGood.


About Real Leaders: Real Leaders magazine has been in circulation since 2010 and is the world’s first sustainable business and leadership publication. It aims to inspire better leaders for a better world.

Announcing Student Groups for Data-Driven Intervention

We’re excited to announce Student Intervention Groups! We designed this feature to help your teams take the next step when making decisions with data each day.

Congratulations To This Year’s Grant Recipients!

For a second year, we were fortunate to offer Mosaic District Progress Monitoring grants to school systems who want to drive student success through the use of data. This year, 22 different awards were extended across 13 different states.

Our second cohort of recipients includes ASU Preparatory Academy, Auburn City School District, Binghamton City School District, Buena Park Elementary, Charlottesville City Schools, Clarke County School District, Friendship Public Charter School, Hollister School District, Jamestown City School District, Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District,  Laurens County School District, Lebanon School District, Maine-Endwell Central School District, MaST Community Charter Schools, McPherson Unified School District 418, Norwich School District, Orangeburg Consolidated School District, Public Prep Network, Santa Rosa City Schools, String Theory Schools, Wawasee Community School Corporation, and Ypsilanti Community Schools.

Many of the school systems have already accepted and are on their way to implementing new systems and strategies to make data more understandable and accessible, set goals that yield equitable outcomes across multiple measures, and to foster continuous improvement during the year, through the regular monitoring of real-time, leading indicators.

We’re excited about the encouraging ways our grant recipients plan to establish or enhance successful data systems within their schools. It is our honor and privilege to partner with district and school leaders as they work hard to create actionable goals and achieve winning outcomes for students.

We look forward to doing good work…together.

Congratulations to our 2018 cohort!

Schoolzilla named 2018 “Best For Customers” & “Best For Workers” by B Corporation

Schoolzilla is honored to be named “Best For Customers” and “Best For Workers” by B Corporation this year! We were one of many wonderful companies across the world who earned a customer & worker score in the top 10 percent of more than 2,400 Certified B Corporations on the B Impact Assessment.

Hundreds of Data Champions move “Towards Equity” together at Summit 2018

March is always one of Schoolzilla’s most rewarding times of year! Why? It’s the time we get to gather with data champions to share best strategies, strengthen skills, and thought partner with a collective of leaders that are eager and intentional about the work they do on behalf of students each day. Each year, we try to make the Data Champion Summit experience new, so for our fourth year, we completed a three-state tour!

Exciting Product Feature Update!

Since our initial release of Mosaic District Progress Monitoring, we’ve received great feedback from people around the country about what they love about Mosaic and how we can make it even more useful. In response to their feedback, we’ve added dynamic Student Views. Educators can now create dynamic lists of students based on multiple metrics. Districts are already using this capability to celebrate the students that are “Passing with Perfect Attendance” (100% attendance, 0 failing grades) and to monitor students who meet the criteria for “Early Warning” (attendance less than 90%, failing 1 or more core courses and 1 or more suspensions). Check out this two-minute video to see how it works!


Clarifying our Commitments

We are proud to be one of the early signatories of the Student Privacy Pledge, joining back in 2015. We are in full agreement with the spirit and the letter of the Pledge and its goal of promoting the “safe and effective use of student information for student, teacher, and school success.”

In February, we updated our Terms of Service based on a recommendation from the Future of Privacy Forum, one of the creators of the Pledge.  Our day-to-day practices at Schoolzilla have always been in compliance with the commitments, and being a signatory of the Pledge has not changed that. What being a signatory has done is improve how we communicate our practices with our customers and how we articulate those practices in our legally binding terms. To list just a few examples of the steps we’ve taken:

  1. Added an “in plain English” version of our Terms to encourage more people to read and understand them.
  2. Modified our website so that when we make changes to our Terms, each user is proactively notified of the changes as soon as they log in and are asked to accept the new terms.
  3. Committed to transparency in our Terms by storing every change to our terms of service online for all to review.
  4. Clarified that even if we someday join forces with another company, that company would have to have data privacy standards at least as stringent as our own or they wouldn’t be able to access PII.

In the next few weeks, you’ll see another clarification from us in our terms: we do not sell student personal information and we do not create or keep student profiles for non-educational purposes. While these commitments are clear in the legalese, we want to be 100% sure they are clear to anyone who reads our terms.  



Announcing Data Champion Summit 2018

We’re excited to invite you to Data Champion Summit 2018, where you can build invaluable relationships and skills to accelerate the impact of your work in schools. We have three big announcements about what’s in store this year:

  • We’re coming to you! In an effort to make the magic of Summit more accessible to school systems across the country, we’re hosting three events:
    • March 1-2 in New York, NY
    • March 12-13 in Berkeley, CA
    • March 19-20 in Detroit, MI
  • Register now and save: Our early bird pricing is now open for all three events, but limited to the first 30 registrants at each. Hurry and register before 12/31 to save on your tickets!

Congratulations To Our First Cohort Of Grant Recipients!

This week, Schoolzilla notified the school systems who are receiving awards in the first round of the Mosaic District Progress Monitoring Grant Program.   We made awards to 27 school systems serving 235,000 students in 11 states.  Recipients included San Francisco Unified School District, Bakersfield City School District, Hemet Unified School District, Battle Creek Public Schools, New London Public Schools, Inglewood Unified School District and the South Carolina Public Charter School District.

The final round deadline for the grant program is June 1, 2017.  Download the application here.

The grant awards were made to districts who are working towards:

  • Making data more understandable & accessible for staff
  • Setting goals for equitable outcomes on multiple measures, such as chronic absence, normed benchmark assessments, suspensions, or college readiness
  • Using data to foster continuous improvement during the year, through the regular monitoring of real-time, leading indicators

The grant recipients documented inspiring visions for empowering school staff to use data to run great schools in their applications, including:

“We want schools to use data to inform their own goal setting, curriculum choices, and student interventions; at the district level, we want to use data to look at the system as a whole and easily assess performance across schools, identify best practices to share with schools that are lagging, and to capture information about those schools in need of additional supports.”

“We’d like to see our weekly/monthly/quarterly PD sessions driven by data that all staff have quick access to, and have folks engaged in ensuring equity and access for all students. On a larger scale, we’d also like to have big picture conversations about how our students do beyond graduation, our role within it, and what impact we have had and would like to have on the lives of our students.”

“We are actively pursuing closing inequitable gaps in our system. Clear data — and intentional, regular, data-driven conversation and PLC work — helps expose those gaps and helps us to move our system toward more equitable outcomes.”

We are thrilled and honored to be able to support these districts in achieving their visions, and look forward to the opportunity to expand the program to more school systems in the final round.  Congratulations to all!

Four Insights for Designing K-12 Dashboards

School districts today are collecting an increasing amount of data, and with that comes a growing desire to use that data to drive better outcomes for their students. The challenge is that while the data exists in stacks of paper on desktops and digitally in different academic systems, it’s not available in an aggregated form that empowers districts to use real-time progress monitoring to improve student achievement.

Read more

Data Champion Summit ’17 Highlights

Data Champion Summit is hands-down our favorite time of year– and 2017 did not disappoint, thanks to all of you! Data champions from across the country joined us for three days in March ’17 to share best practices, sharpen their data skills, and connect with colleagues just as passionate about education as they are. We […]

Our Commitment to Information Security

We are committed to information security and privacy—and we are constantly strengthening our best-practice based security systems and protocols to better serve the schools, teachers, and students who rely on us to get the information they need to enable all students to succeed. Read more

3 Keys To Successfully Implementing A District Strategic Plan

Everybody seems to have a strategic plan…

Experts like the Wallace Foundation and others have shown that great school districts must establish a strategic vision. And most school systems we talk to have a strategic plan, or are working on one.

…yet most of us do not act on our plans.  

Despite all of the thoughtful discussion, planning and work, the most common place to find a strategic plan is sitting on a dusty shelf. Strategic planning experts tell us that most strategic plans never get implemented (in school systems OR in the business world).  

How can this be?

How is it possible that this foundational tool that everyone has and everyone agrees is important doesn’t get used?  More importantly, how do you liberate your strategic plan from its three-ring-binder prison and make it useful?

We found three keys that will help you go from plan to implementation.

To solve this mystery, we talked to a lot of school systems, including many that DO use their strategic plans.  We also reached out to experts and read up on the research.  We found three keys to making strategic planning actually useful:

  1. EDIT your plan down to a page.
    That can be really hard to do.  If you engage your stakeholders and community in developing your strategic plan, it’s easy to come up with a very long list of strategies and initiatives.  But prioritizing everything is the same thing as prioritizing nothing – if it takes a binder to list the things you’re going to do, they’re not likely to get done (or even looked at).  School districts that can articulate their strategy in one page (like Ector County Independent School District’s Performance Prioritization Plan) have attained a level of focus, clarity, and alignment that sets them up for success, and makes their plans actually useful.  Back it up with a binder if you need to, but if you can’t synthesize in one page, your plan is much less likely to get used.
  2. DEFINE what success (and failure) look like.
    That means identifying measurable outcomes and setting goals.  “Improve student engagement” is not measurable; “Reduce chronic absence to 7% of students” is.  Oakland Unified School District’s Balanced Scorecard, with its clear check marks and Xs, is a great example of how strategic goals can be clearly measured.  And remember, defining what “off track” looks like is as important as defining success.
  3. INSTITUTIONALIZE your plan by reporting on progress at least monthly.
    The ACSD’s survey of school district strategic plans found that effective districts checked in on their progress at least monthly.  Regular check-ins can identify opportunities to change course, which drives real action.  Annual “autopsy” check-ins all too often uncover problems where it’s too late to solve.

Monthly reporting probably won’t happen without an automated tracking system for your plan.

Of course, as with most school improvement strategies, this is all easier said than done.  Most district leaders we talk to agree: obviously, it’d be great to have a one-page plan of measurable goals that we check in on monthly.  But how do we get there?  It’s genuinely hard, especially without the right tools.  That’s why so many school districts write strategic plans but don’t actually implement them.

Sign up for a demo if you want to see our district progress monitoring solution.

Schoolzilla has worked with school systems across the country, including St. Louis Public Schools, to turn strategic plans into everything-on-one-screen dashboards that make it easy to monitor goals monthly (or even daily). We are working hard to help districts act on their plans.  


Interested in learning more?  


Meet Mosaic District Progress Monitoring

After a year and half of close collaboration with school systems across the country, we are excited to share two big announcements: the Mosaic platform and Mosaic District Progress Monitoring module.

Achieving District Goals Using Data-Driven Performance Management Webinar Recording

Click below to watch the full webinar recording, and continue the discussion by sharing your own tips or questions on the Hub!

How to Roll Out Reports for Maximum Impact Webinar Recording

As data and academic leaders, how can you ensure the reports you’re rolling out become an integral part of your stakeholders’ practice?

In our November webinar, Caroline Galindo and Mariel Matze from Schoolzilla shared strategies for how to successfully roll out reports that make an impact, with a focus on the following:

  • Using roll out content to reinforce your organizational goals and positive data culture
  • Identifying key stakeholders and defining their role and responsibilities
  • Setting expectations for report usage
  • Soliciting and iterating on feedback from your key stakeholders

Click below to watch the full webinar recording, and continue the discussion by sharing your own tips or questions on the Hub!

Common Sense Media released free data security and privacy tools for districts; Schoolzilla earned top marks

The district CTO’s growing data privacy challenge:

According to the Teacher Knows Best survey of over 4,000 teachers, “Virtually all teachers (93 percent) now use some sort of digital tool to help guide instruction.” Given education technology tools’ sudden rise to near ubiquity, it is not surprising that “for the fourth straight year, state legislatures have passed bills to protect student data privacy, bringing the total number of laws on the books to 74.” (Center for Digital Education, 2016). District technology leaders (e.g., CTOs) are stretched to keep up with the pace of demand for new tools that unlock the potential of personalized learning and data-driven decision-making while also working to maintain the safety and privacy of student data.

New resources to help districts CTOs keep students safe:

Common Sense Media (CMS), the nation’s leading independent nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering kids to thrive in a world of media and technology, has developed tools to help districts evaluate providers and keep student data safe as they work to adopt new technologies. School districts can now use CMS’s comprehensive privacy evaluation tool for assessing education technology providers.  We were excited to learn that Schoolzilla earned top marks across all four categories of their privacy evaluation!

About CSM’s Privacy Evaluations:

Common Sense Media’s privacy evaluation effort, which involved almost 100 school systems in the evaluation process, includes privacy assessments on over 150 education technology applications. Vendors are evaluated on 4 dimensions that are key to keeping students and their data safe:

  • SAFETY – takes into consideration best practices that protect a user’s physical and emotional health.
  • PRIVACY – takes into consideration best practices that protect the disclosure of a user’s personal information.
  • SECURITY – takes into consideration best practices that protect the integrity and confidentiality of a user’s data.
  • COMPLIANCE – takes into consideration best practices of companies that collect personal information from children or students and the legal obligations for the privacy and security of that information.

5 ways to use CSM’s resources to keep your students’ data safe:

Whether your vendors are among the 150 who have been evaluated or not, there are multiple ways that you can leverage CSM’s resources to protect student data.

  1. Review the Information Security Primer for Evaluating Educational Software to learn more about how to best evaluate the security and privacy of technology providers.
  2. Look up your current technology providers or providers you are considering to see if they’ve been reviewed and how they scored in the privacy evaluation tool.
  3. Incorporate the privacy evaluation questions into your next RFP and/or vendor due diligence efforts.
  4. Bring CSM’s questions to your next contract renewal discussion with a technology provider for your district.
  5. Join the consortium of nearly 100 schools and districts that are working in the United States to help streamline the process of evaluating privacy policies for edtech apps.

Getting the Most Out of Your State Assessment Results

With the release of new state assessment results, district and school leaders are anxious to use their data and make decisions that will impact student achievement.

In our September webinar, LaKeshia Richardson and Steve Taylor from Schoolzilla focused on the essential questions district leaders, school leaders, and teachers are asking when reviewing their data:

  • Do I understand how proficiency levels, scores, and claim performance are changing over time?
  • What can I do to benchmark my data against others?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks of looking at this data with formative assessment data?
  • How can I use this data to have meaningful conversations with stakeholders?

Using SBAC as an example, LaKeshia will share best practices for using growth data to make informed decisions and how applying user-centered design methods and user feedback can increase the use of data to drive action in your district.

Click below to watch the full webinar recording.

Schoolzilla has powerful Smarter Balanced assessment dashboards designed to help educators make immediate sense of their students’ results.

With Schoolzilla’s Explorers, you can visually answer questions like:

  • What achievement gaps are we seeing in our district vs. others?
  • How does performance vary by zip code, parent education, or disability status?
  • Where are the bright spots in our district?

Click here to start exploring the dashboards.

This is the Year: Kick-Start Your District’s Data Culture

Building a healthy data culture is essential to using data effectively in schools. From leading principals’ meetings to hosting a district-wide data day, school leaders need to consistently explore, analyze, and share data to drive action.

In our August webinar, Sarah Shoff and Jason Dolan from Schoolzilla focused on the key elements to building a strong data culture:

  • Thinking critically about setting and monitoring goals
  • Leading regular, action-oriented data conversations
  • Determining clear next steps—continuing the conversation and turning insights into action

Click below to watch the full webinar recording and learn how you can prepare for, lead, and follow up on data conversations as a key driver of your data culture.

Additional resources about building your district’s data culture can be found here on Schoolzilla’s Data Champion Hub:

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Case Study: Using Data to Drive St. Louis Public Schools’ Transformation Plan

2013–2014 — Challenge:SLPS quote2

St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) was working hard to regain their full accreditation, after showing enough progress to regain provisional accreditation the previous year. But, despite SLPS’ strong data culture, district leaders recognized that their data tools were insufficient to provide “the right data on the right timeline,” leading them to issue an RFP for a new data tool.

2014–2015 — Solution:

After considering seven vendors, the district selected Schoolzilla to build and power an integrated set of leading indicator and key outcome dashboards to enable district leaders to automatically monitor progress against the multiple measures within their district’s transformation plan.

2015–2016 — Result:

SLPS launched their new Schoolzilla dashboard system to their network of superintendents and pilot group of school leaders and teachers.

Looking forward to next year, SLPS remains relentlessly focused on using data to drive continuous improvement and is on track to achieve full accreditation by 2017.

2016-2017  — UPDATE:

SLPS regained full accreditation on January 10, 2017!

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 1.54.09 PM
Read the full case study, Using Data to Drive St. Louis Public Schools’ Transformation Plan, and learn more about how SLPS developed its Excellent Schools Transformation Tool (ESTT) dashboards to keep track of the district’s key performance indicators (KPIs) at the district, school, and student levels.


See below for a tour of St. Louis Public Schools’ ESTT Dashboards:

District Profile

Dashboard designed for superintendents and their leadership team.

  • Visualizes leading indicators to monitor progress toward SLPS’ goals outlined in their Transformation Plan.
  • Compares performance across schools, grade levels, and student subgroups to understand trends over time and invest in efforts that will drive the highest priority outcomes.

(Note: At Schoolzilla we take both data visualization and data privacy very seriously. For these reasons we are displaying real Schoolzilla reports with 100% fake data.)District Profile

School Profile

Dashboard designed for school leaders and principals.

  • Provides school leaders with actionable data from multiple sources all in one place.
  • Equips leaders with the data they need to implement timely intervention and deploy resources strategically to address areas of need.

(Note: At Schoolzilla we take both data visualization and data privacy very seriously. For these reasons we are displaying real Schoolzilla reports with 100% fake data.)School Profile

Student Profile

Dashboard designed for teachers.

  • Enables teachers to quickly understand the attendance, academic, and climate/culture trends of SLPS students.
  • Allows educators to strategically differentiate instruction and utilize appropriate interventions.

 (Note: At Schoolzilla we take both data visualization and data privacy very seriously. For these reasons we are displaying real Schoolzilla reports with 100% fake data.)Student Profile

The 6 Critical Jobs of an Effective District Data Ecosystem

Using data in a district context is deceptively difficult—a classic case of “data-rich, information-poor.” According to a recent survey of over 4,000 teachers across the United States, over two-thirds of teachers (67 percent) indicated that they were not fully satisfied with the effectiveness of the data and tools they had access to on a regular basis (Teachers Know Best).

Although every district will have needs that are unique, given the local context and strategic objectives, there are six jobs that every effective district data ecosystem must do to remain effective for educators.

 Read about the 6 Critical Jobs of an Effective Data Ecosystem and the tools—from spreadsheets to data warehouses—we most often see used to get those jobs done.

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.

Here are 6 effective time-saving techniques

  • 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.


Big Wins in the Little Things: Data Improvements for Key District Operations Webinar

Are you looking for ways to use data to identify key problems with simple solutions? Do you need examples for building tools and processes to address those problems and measure impact?

In our last webinar, Adam Kishel, senior data analyst at Lawrence Public Schools—a 14,000 student district in MA that’s been widely hailed as a turnaround success—and Vlad Gutkovich, district partnerships lead at Schoolzilla, shared how to achieve big data wins in small steps.

Three effective dashboards for Chronic Absence Reporting

For a more in-depth look at Adam’s dashboards, please watch the full webinar recording below.

  1. Chronic Absence Status: School Comparison Dashboard—Used by Lawrence Public School’s district-level attendance officer, this dashboard shows students who are chronically absent—identifying who they are and showing where they’re located on a map. After reviewing the dashboard, the attendance officer can determine which areas of the city have the highest chronically absent students and plan which areas to visit.
  2. Section Enrollment Dashboard: With its highly mobile student population, Lawrence Public Schools needed a way to efficiently place students in the right schools while ensuring that the schools and classrooms had the capacity to accept the students. This dashboard enables the enrollment officer to quickly see if there is space in any of the sections, who the students are who are currently enrolled in each section, and where the students in each section are located geographically on the map.
  3. School Zone Dashboard: During summer placement, Lawrence Public Schools found that some schools were accepting more students and becoming overcrowded. This dashboard helps place students in the correct zone before the start of the school year by showing which students (based on their addresses) will be attending which school. It also displays alternate schools so the enrollment officer can see if there’s another school that is closer.

Click below to watch the full webinar recording!

10 Simple Strategies for Holding the Best Data Day Ever

Leading a data day (or any session that relies heavily on data) is no easy task. From preparing an effective presentation, to delivering the session with relevant and timely content, to following-up with attendees to ensure data conversations are continuing well after the session has ended.

In our last webinar, Steve Taylor and Sara Coffin from Schoolzilla shared 10 simple strategies for leading a successful data session. Check out the video below to hear how schools are implementing these best practices to spark and maintain engagement during their data days.


Using Data to Pursue Equity in Schools

Schoolzilla is proud to support a growing community of educators who are committed to using data to pursue equity in their schools. There are many ways to define and measure equity. To take one example, Equal Opportunity Schools is a national nonprofit organization focused on the important issue of access to advanced courses, which can lead to higher engagement and better postsecondary outcomes for students.

At the core of EOS’s mission is the fact that students of color and students from lower-income families are less likely to enroll in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. These “missing students” create a national “enrollment gap” that contributes to systematically worse educational outcomes for those students compared to their wealthier, White, and Asian-American peers.

Like most equity-related issues, this is a complex problem rooted in historical and structural trends. However, it’s also an immensely important problem to solve.

EOS takes a data-driven approach to helping schools confront their enrollment gaps. The first step involves a “gap analysis” (see image below) to identify the size of each school’s enrollment gap.

As you can see, EOS uses the enrollment rate of medium- and high-income White and Asian students as the benchmark for all other groups. From there, they’re able to calculate the number of “missing students” from other demographic categories. This begins to give schools some measurable enrollment goals to help close their enrollment gaps.  

EOS Gap Chart

In our experience at Schoolzilla, real change occurs (and the real work begins) when teachers and administrators are able to have data-driven conversations about their challenges and opportunities.

Using the enrollment gaps identified by EOS, teachers and school leaders can consider questions like, “What would it take for each teacher of an AP prerequisite to get five more students from these underrepresented groups to register?” and from there, develop concrete plans to make their schools more equitable.

Elizabeth Sykes of EOS says that “bringing data to the table is what enables these conversations to start and flourish.” To learn more about EOS’s approach, check them out at

We’d love to learn about your school’s challenges and successes with equity. Join this conversation!


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?

Looking for more resources to support building a data-driven culture in your school? Here’s a few of many resources available on Schoolzilla’s Data Champion HUB:



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.

200 Data Champions Connect, Develop, & Take Action: DCS ’16 Highlights

Riddle me this: Where can you find exhilarating trivia, over 200 Data Champions, intense corn hole tournaments, and a live student band?

Answer: Schoolzilla’s 2nd annual Data Champion Summit! (We even had to move venues this year after doubling in size from last year’s Summit!)

Thanks to the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation’s generous support, the Doubletree Berkeley Hotel was the destination hotspot this last week Feb. 16-18, 2016 to connect with K-12 data enthusiasts. One attendee described #DataSummit16 as a gathering of like-minded people at the intersection of data and education with space to discuss shared issues and possible strategies to tackle those issues. Truly a community.”

What could compel all of these intelligent, fun-loving, and compassionate Data Champions to show up at DCS 2016 with smiles on their faces?

Maybe it was the sweet notebook and T-shirt swag? Or the spiffy buttons that you could proudly deck out your lanyards with? Or the breathtaking view of the San Francisco skyline above the Berkeley Marina waterfront?

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More likely, it was the shared bond of being with people who really got you, your passion for helping kids, and your hunger for data. Data Champions continually noted how refreshing and energizing [it was] to be at a conference so perfectly matched to what I do.” 

Tuesday, Feb. 16th, 2016 | Welcome Reception with Trivia 

With Data Champions arriving from all parts of the country, there was no rest for the weary as DCS 2016 kicked off with brain-boggling trivia questions and enviable prizes (everything from color-changing coffee mugs to gift certificates).

When I arrived on Tuesday, I immediately felt like I was an integral part of something.”

Wednesday, Feb. 17th (Part 1) | Let the learning begin!

DSC_0076Wednesday morning, everyone arrived bright-eyed and ready to enhance their technical skills, develop professional leadership skills, or take a deep dive into particular data domains.

“It was such a fantastic opportunity to catch up on technical skills, think about some of the bigger questions, and connect with and be inspired by other folks and the work that they’re doing as well!”

Check out Wednesday’s session highlights and resources on the Hub!

Wed., Feb. 17th (Part 2) | Data Block Party!

After a day jam-packed with thought-provoking sessions and insightful discussions, it was time to unwind at the Data Block Party!

Wednesday evening shenanigans included:

  • High-tension Jenga showdowns
  • Intense corn hole rivalries
  • Fabulous prizes (FitBit, OpenTable certificates, and Beats headphones!)
  • And, to keep students at the core of why we do the critical work we do, an amazing performance from the Oakland East-side All Star Ensemble, a local student band from Oakland Tech High School!

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Thurs., Feb. 18th | Sending off our Data Champions with new tools and insights on using data to change students’ lives

Thursday morning, we were back at it, pushing each other to answer hard questions and develop new ways of looking at shared challenges.

Thursday’s sessions and resources are shared on our community Hub. A few highlights below:

As a scientist by training, I found myself being drawn to the science-fair-like sight of all these Data-Driven Educators and Data Bosses collaborating and sharing dashboard best practices at the Data Champion Reports Showcase!

Looking back, how did DCS 2016 achieve its goals of helping attendees Connect, Develop, & Take Action?

Join the community and achieve your goals

DSC_0999“I really value the collaborative aspect of the Data Champions Summit. I love to connect with folks doing similar work and talk about similar challenges and potential solutions.”

“I walked away with more advanced knowledge of Tableau, troubleshot a couple critical issues we’ve been experiencing with a few of your Schoolzilla folk, met at least three folks I’ll be following-up with, and just generally had a great time.”

Take Action
“The energy, enthusiasm, and ideas for using data to make better schools was just what I needed to help craft a plan for our district that will endure.” 

See everyone next year!

DCS brings our community of Data Champions together to have critical data conversations about how we can most effectively leverage data to change student lives. “Data is not the answer. It’s a hint, a way to start the conversation.”

Strengthened by our diverse experiences, perspectives, geographies, and school system contexts, it’s evident that we are Better Together as a community.


Product Spotlight: Chronic Absence Dashboards

“Across all grades, students who missed more than 4 days at the beginning of the school year were over 16 times as likely to be chronically absent than students who were absent fewer than 2 days.” (Olson, 2014)

“Nationally, children from families with low socioeconomic status with strong attendance gained more literacy skills than peers from families with higher socioeconomic status.” (Ready, 2010)


While working with a school in CA, we heard a need from principals to better track chronically absent students. Therefore, we created the Chronic Absence Dashboards as a tool for school leaders to dive even deeper into their attendance data to visualize which students are most chronically absent and at-risk, carefully assess their interventions, and take action in contacting parents.

 “[Schoolzilla] recently gave me the world’s best custom chronic absence report and my principal loves it. The report inspired the idea of specifically tracking consecutive absences.

Case study how we improved absence records

What problem was the district trying to solve with their Chronic Absence Dashboards?

  • A better way to track student absences: Principals wanted to better understand which students were missing school, how many days they were missing, and whether there was a pattern to their absences.
  • An easier way to analyze chronic absence data, connect with parents, and see if their interventions are working: Principals were noticing an increase in the number of students who are absent from class, but were having trouble assessing: who the students were, how many days they were missing, and whether they were missing the same day every week or month.
  • A more concrete way for school leaders to share information: Principals needed a way to visualize chronic student absences so they could inform their superintendent about which students were at the greatest risk and present their plan of action to correct the problem.

Standout Features:

View students* by attendance rate: View count and list of students who were absent within the last month, and which students were absent X (e.g. 2, 4, 10) or more days within the past two months, etc. 

Chronic Absence Report
View attendance by day: The calendar view shows if there is consistency in student absences. Are students missing the same day every week or month, or the days before a holiday and/or weekend?Attendance by Day
View Recent Attendance: From the “Recent Attendance” column, principals can see if the interventions they’ve implemented are working. Has chronic absence status decreased since they intervened? Or do they need to take further action?

Student by Attendance Rate

Contact Students’ Parent/Guardian: After analyzing the dashboards principals can immediately intervene with their chronically absent students by sending a letter home, phoning students’ parent/guardian, or scheduling an in-person meeting. By clicking on the students’ names, principals can see all of their contact information including parents’ names, phone numbers, and email addresses.

Student Contact Info

Looking for more information about Chronic Absence? Join us on Wednesday, March 9th for a webinar hosted by Schoolzilla’s own Jason Dolan and Bryn Murray. Click here to register today!

* Please note, information presented is not reflective of actual student data.

Additional Dashboards to See How Chronic Absence is Affecting Your Schools

Schoolzilla’s dashboards offer many different views of chronic absence data, enabling you to dig even deeper to see the root causes of absences and create more effective interventions. Click here to sign up for more information.


DCS Session Preview: Assessments as a powerful professional learning tool for teachers

With Schoolzilla’s Data Champion Summit just a week away, we’re gearing up for an amazing conference packed with robust professional learning and networking opportunities. To deliver the most relevant and impactful sessions, Schoolzilla has teamed up with other experts in the field to provide deep dives into specific domains of school data and management. Here’s a sneak peak at one of our featured sessions from the experts at Achievement Network (ANet).

Do you want to transform your data meetings into powerful professional learning opportunities for teachers? Do you want to help teachers see assessments and data as tools to help them build their own understanding of the standards and reflect on their teaching practice?

Tests are designed to measure what students have learned, but they can also be  a powerful learning tool for teachers and leaders, in which they can deepen their understanding of the standards and reflect on their instruction. In their session titled, Flipping the way we think about assessments: Assessments as a powerful professional learning tool for teachers, ANet will help Data Champions uncover connections between assessments, standards, and instruction.

This session will focus on one purpose of assessments and data that can often be overlooked: their ability to help teachers deepen their own understanding of the standards and reflect on their own teaching.


Dual purpose

At the Data Champion Summit 2016, ANet will provide attendees with the opportunity to learn more about using assessments more effectively to impact learning not only for students, but for teachers, too. Please join us on Thursday, February 18th from 1:30—2:45pm and discover how you can learn the most from your assessments!

If you aren’t able to attend the Data Champion Summit (or even if you’re already registered) and want to get a jumpstart on learning more, Schoolzilla’s Formative Assessment dashboards are a great place to start!


Meet Your Presenters:

  • Carlon Myrick, Director of New Partnerships with Achievement Network, former instructional leader, and ANet coach
  • Tim Suba, Director of New Partnerships with Achievement Network, former instructional leader, and ANet coach

More About ANet: Achievement Network (ANet) is an edu­ca­tion non­profit that helps schools boost student learn­ing with great teach­ing that’s grounded in stan­dards, informed by data, and built on the suc­cess­ful prac­tices of edu­ca­tors around the coun­try.


2015 Year in Review (Infographic)

Happy New Year! Before we dive right into 2016, we wanted to take a look back and reflect on 2015’s highlights. Here are some fun numbers from 2015!


We can’t wait to see where this year takes us. Happy 2016!

Using Data Conversations to Accelerate Impact and Improve Outcomes

Sometimes people look at data alone, but often educators and school leaders engage with data as part of a “data conversation” with one or more teammates working together to unpack what the data means and decide what to do about it. By facilitating conversations about data, school leaders can foster an environment where educators are exploring the data, gaining deeper understanding about what it means and why it’s important, and building an instant interconnectedness amongst school leaders, teachers, and their data.

In this blog post (which first appeared on the Getting Smart blog), Schoolzilla Vice President of Impact and People, Leo Bialis-White, PhD, shares how educators and school leaders can foster a culture that is receptive to data conversations.

Schoolzilla-feat-964x670Data provides hints, not answers. But when brought together with context and conversation, data can become actionable insights that translate into powerful changes for students.

Numbers and scores provide little insight unless there’s a strategy for analyzing the data, a means for sharing it among the right colleagues, and a system for making informed decisions for change. Sometimes people look at data alone, but often educators and school leaders engage with data as part of a “data conversation” with one or more teammates working together to unpack what the data means and decide what to do about it.

As an educator or school leader, how can you foster a culture that is receptive to data conversations? How can you facilitate better conversations around data? How can you use tools and resources for greater impact? In short, what makes data meaningful and actionable?

Creating a data-friendly culture.

“The key to creating positive, data-driven cultural change in your school is to build love and trust around data. Teachers have to know that you’re there to help them get better.”
— Doug Rawlins, Principal, Panhandle Elementary School, From Schoolzilla Case Study

Analyzing data and effectively using it to make informed decisions takes teamwork, consistent and open communication with teachers and students, and a deep understanding of how to use data, when, and why.

Imagine for a moment that you’re responsible for assessing your district’s data. Every week you spend hours and hours creating reports to show each student’s progress and challenges. You know how important the information is, how useful it can be for impacting student achievement, but no one is looking at your reports. No one is analyzing the information or using it to make decisions. Should you continue to exert effort if it’s not doing anything productive for kids? What other levers can you pull for change?

Many educators have access to data insights, information and reports that provide them with detailed information about their students, but as shown in the example, not everyone knows what do with their data. What prompts educators to use data? For some, the answer is simple: “I need it and depend on it”. These educators spend hours working in spreadsheets trying to make the most data-driven decisions possible. For others, it’s because “My principal wants to see it”, or “Our school had a data day”, or even “My school’s data coach walked me through it”. While the answers vary, each encompasses the same underlying theme: I look at data because I need to make decisions with colleagues.
Schoolzilla-banner-1As district administrators, part of developing a data-driven culture is engaging your teams in the data, so that your reports aren’t just theoretically valuable, but are authentically used. By facilitating conversations about data, you’re fostering an environment where educators are exploring the data, gaining deeper understanding about what it means and why it’s important, and building an instant interconnectedness amongst school leaders, teachers, and their data.

Levers to drive data conversations.

“Now that [the data] is there and it’s available for everyone, [teachers] are able to really dive in and not spend time analyzing, but spend time interpreting and using data to plan. We had much more meaningful conversations in the very beginning part of the year because the data was so readily available.”
— Jan Faraguna, Director of Analytics, Rocketship Education, From Schoolzilla Case Study

Technology has the potential to provide a platform for making data conversations a seamless part of everyday activities. Educators are enabled with data that is visible, accurate, explorable, complete, and timely. The capability to share data among district leaders and teachers creates a forum for discussion. Educators can write notes about what they see, synthesizing the information, generating feedback, and developing a strategic plan to take action.Schoolzilla-banner-3Developing a collaborative environment where school leaders can openly discuss their data cultivates deeper relationships amongst colleagues and builds understanding about why decisions are being made, as well as an educator’s value in contributing to the solution and willingness to change practice for formative improvement. Here are strategies I have learned from working with schools at Schoolzilla that you can use to fuel data conversations:

  • Data Kudos: Create a system to congratulate colleagues in your district about a data success; this encourages them to feel successful while gaining buy-in from your educators.
  • Data Reflections: Encourage educators to consistently reflect on their data, so they understand it, own it, and act on it. One technique is to schedule meetings with your teachers or school leaders, sending out questions ahead of time, so they can reflect on what the data is telling them and set goals for the next quarter.
  • Data Inbox: Share key pieces of data with your stakeholders. If there’s a report that is crucial to educators, share it with them, whether it’s through email, school mail, or even on a bulletin board in the staff lounge.
  • Create a Shared Language: Infuse data into your everyday conversations to help educators understand data as the missing piece of the puzzle. Encourage educators to look for evidence, corroboration, and triangulation by answering these key questions:
    • “What did I see?”
    • “What data support or refute that observation?”
    • “What’s my hypothesis of why that occurred?”
  • Plug into a Network: Some people who are trying to champion data at their school are isolated. They don’t have anyone to discuss what’s working, what’s not, and what they could be doing differently. Connect with other data-driven leaders by starting a Professional Learning Community, or PLC, within your school to focus on data reflection and action.

There are many resources to help connect data-minded educators to share and solve problems collaboratively. Schoolzilla’s Data Champion Summit empowers data champions to connect, build relevant, timely skills that can be leveraged immediately to address current challenges, and take action. Data Champion Summit offers a unique opportunity to help schools engage with their teams by helping those teams have great data conversations.

Making your data conversations actionable.

“Once [data] is easy to see, it’s easy to know, and do something about it.”
— Richard Bowman, Chief Information and Strategy Officer, Santa Fe Public Schools

In a recent case study, Chris Haid explored how data helped reduce summer learning loss at KIPP Chicago. After administering the fall assessment, Haid reflected on his data and saw that third grade students had fallen into the summer reading slump. For the administration of KIPP Chicago, it did not seem plausible that students would regress in their studies with only six to eight weeks off for summer break. But the data was conclusive—there was a definite loss. This data prompted his team to take a closer look at how they were structuring class time after the year-end spring assessment.  Acting on the data, they made the decision to place extra emphasis on delivering more purposeful, objective-driven teaching following the spring assessment; and ensured that teachers were instructionally ready from day one with all operational systems up and running so they could dive right into purposeful teaching and counter the effects of summer learning loss. The results of these data-driven decisions were both powerful and tangible for KIPP Chicago, “We saw less summer loss this year, nearly none in almost every class.” Haid said.
Schoolzilla-banner-2It’s not about the data, it’s what you decide to do with it. There are key steps to getting your district data-ready. The combination of strong data tools and fostering a robust data culture results in data conversations, and ultimately action leading to positive change for students.

Leo Bialis-White, PhD is the Vice President of Impact and People at Schoolzilla, PBC. Follow Schoolzilla on Twitter @Schoolzilla.