September 27, 2023

The data dashboard has become more sophisticated, but it is still only one lens through which educators should view their students

When Amber Teamann was a teacher in Garland, Texas, seven years ago, her use of data to help guide her instruction was fairly limited.

“Based on the programs I was using, I could evaluate how to differentiate instruction for my students,” she said. But tracking how well her students were meeting specific grade-level standards at any moment during the year wasn’t an option for her at that time, nor was looking at larger trends until after the school year had ended.

Data “was something you would use as an autopsy when everything was over,” she said.

A lot has changed since then. Now, as the principal of Whitt Elementary School, part of the Wylie Independent School District in Texas, Teamann and her staff are using information that is more timely and that reveals students’ performance in relation to specific state standards to help guide their efforts.

“We’ve come a long way in using timely data to help drive instruction,” she noted.

For many teachers, access to timely data that helps tailor instruction in meaningful ways is still a challenge, a Gates Foundation report revealed last year. But in a growing number of school systems, this is improving—and the development of more sophisticated data dashboards that can pull together information from a variety of sources, including both formative and summative assessment data, is helping.

Measuring multiple factors is key

Teamann and her staff are using a data dashboard called Aware, from Plano, Texas-based Eduphoria, to monitor the growth of their students. With Aware, educators can create and administer their own assessments and also import other state and local test results to view students’ progress and understand larger trends. Teachers meet weekly in professional learning communities to review the data and plan their instruction accordingly.

Pulling together data from a variety of sources is important, Teamann said. If you don’t have access to a wide range of information, she explained, you won’t get an accurate picture of a student’s strengths or needs.

Steven Anderson, a former teacher and instructional technology director who maintains the website Web20Classroom, said data dashboards can be powerful tools—but only if they are part of a larger decision-making model that takes a more holistic view of students.

Next page: When to be wary of dashboards

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