Reading Student Data

By Nora Carr

With the advent of accountability, school districts have become awash in data. As a result, sorting the trivial from the critical has become increasingly difficult.

Bogged down by multiple -- and often conflicting -- sets of data, decision-making can sputter and stall, no matter how many pretty charts and graphs are presented.

As Mark Twain famously quipped, “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Not surprisingly, school officials want to know the data they’re relying on to make critical policy and financial decisions is as balanced as possible.

That’s why more are turning to data dashboards and other Web-based business tools to get a better handle on key measures. Like the fuel gauge on a car that lets drivers know their tanks are almost empty, data dashboards use visual formats like arrows, pie charts, or bar graphs to quickly let school leaders know whether critical information -- such as third-grade reading scores or on-time bus arrivals -- are trending up or down.

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