Using Data Dashboards Effectively

For a long time, data was difficult to access in schools. Plenty of us still remember “permanent records,” filed away in locked cabinets.

Now, there’s a lot of data about each student – from the main schedules and attendance stored in student information systems to the test scores and information in each teaching app. Part of the issue, of course, is putting all of this data together, and making it useful. While there are many efforts to make it easier to collect and transfer this data, the more interesting question is, “why?”

New tools make it easy to create data dashboards – but determining what data should go into a dashboard, and how various audiences will use it is where schools need to focus.

In a recent webinar ,  we discussed three essential questions of creating effective data dashboards.

What data do we want to show? To answer this question, we really need to think about the purpose and audience. The point of the data is to provide some insights for students, teachers, parents and/or administrators. It helps, then, to establish a question you want to answer, such as:

  • Are our students on track to graduate?
  • How do we improve our students’ math skills? [or any other subject area]
  • How do we increase attendance?

You’ll want to gather the relevant data from the various sources: student information systems, test score providers, data from apps. You may also want to consider qualitatiave as well as quantitiatve information: do you have any samples of student work or teacher assignments that could be important to collect?

How do we help students set goals based on that data?

Gathering the data is just the first step. The key step is helping the members of your school community use that data to help individual students. It’s one thing to report out the average score for the 8th grade class, or to show an overall improvement in attendance. It’s another thing for each individual student to be able to look at and analyze his or her own information.

When students look at say, attendance, do they have thoughts on what happened on the days they were absent or tardy ? Are there patterns that come up? (For example – on the days AFTER a snowstorm, it may be more difficult to physically get to school on time if a specific neighborhood isn’t cleared out.)

It’s possible, then, for students to set goals an individual learning plan by looking over their data and doing a little reflection on what the grades and test scores and attendance patterns mean.

What targets can we set?

Some goals are best set for the community as a whole. In many states, each school receives a “state report card,” based on multiple factors. Sometimes, the formulas can be quite complex. It’s worth digging deeper and to try to translate those algorithms into a reasonable target.

To take a specific example, one school was trying to move up a level on the state’s “star” rating system. The formula for the test score component of the state report card required translating student scores first into a 1 to 4 scale, and then figuring out what percentage of students scored a 1, 2, 3, and 4, and THEN using a multiplier to translate those percentages into a “performance index.” Somewhere hidden in there, our analysis figured out that getting 60% of the students to one score and another 20% of students to the next level will raise the whole school’s star rating (at least for that component). The point is that we turned a vague, “let’s move up in the ratings” to a concrete question of “how do we get 60% of our students to this level of proficiency?”

It’s mentioned above, but the recent webinar  will help you visualize what a sample data dashboard can look like. Please feel free to take a look and add to our discusssion!

New Initiatives? Digital Portfolios Can Help

As the school year starts, many educators are excited to start new initiatives. So how will we know how well these new initiatives are working? Digital portfolios allow your students to document their progress.

Whether you are introducing project-based learning, wanting to improve math performance, or implementing a new one-on-one technology distribution, the main point of the initiative should be to improve student learning. It’s useful, then, to look at samples of student work from the beginning of the year, and compare them to the work they do as the initiative takes hold. Hopefully, a student’s first project will be just a starting point, and that later projects will show a stronger grasp of what goes into a project.

Having the student work stored in a portfolio also lets your school engage in a little action research. What qualities of work do you want to see change over time? How has your new initiative affected the student work? In a Richer Picture portfolio system, students typically write reflections; to support an initiative, you can ask students to look at two of their entries and ask them to compare the experiences.

The collection of student work can also allow you to course-correct. Examining the student results halfway through the year can give you an indication of how effective your new initiative is, and allow you to make adjustments as you continue to go.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be running some webinars on various initiatives, and how they are related to digital badges and portfolios. This week, we’ll look at data dashboards; next week, we’ll discuss career pathways.  There will be more sessions throughout the year – Please feel free to register and join the conversation!

Chapter 6: Building a Badge- and Portfolio-Friendly Culture

This post is part of the online study group and discusses Chapter 6 of David Niguidula’s book Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios, published by ASCD.

Essential Questions:

  • How do we make sure the portfolios are valued?
  • How do we build on what we already have?
  • What else has to change?

Schools have lots of moving parts. Every student, teacher, administrator and stakeholder in the school can have an effect on the community as a whole. For your digital badge program to be successful, it has to eventually become a part of that community.

It’s easy enough to look at starting with digital badges and portfolios as its own thing – a separate initiative. In the real world, though, any initiative is being put into a school environment that already has its own way of doing things. Thus, it’s important for a school community to consider the essential question, “What else has to change?”

Chapter 6 suggests that schools establish a larger purpose for the digital badges. There are many good reasons to pursue badging and portfolios, from documenting student growth to establishing a school’s vision of what each graduate should know and be able to do. We’ve also seen that some purposes do not work as well; for example, thinking of this work primary as a technology initiative isn’t nearly as effective as focusing on the educational needs.

By putting the badges and portfolios into this larger context, it then becomes easier to determine what else has to change. If there’s a collective understanding that the purpose is important, then the faculty and students are more likely to put in the necessary energy to make the badges and portfolios worthwhile.

Let’s consider one specific purpose: badges and portfolios offer the opportunity for schools to truly personalize. Students certainly will be collecting their best work; in some cases, students are able to set up their own badges, and therefore establish the direction of their learning. In their tours, students can show that they have met standards – but can also show who they are as individual learners.

In order for this personalization to happen, the adults in the school need to encourage it. Teachers can go a long way simply by asking students to reflect on their work – and paying attention to the answers. As mentioned in Chapter 4, the role of feedback is critical – students want to know what the teachers think about their performance, both what went well and what needs to be improved.

While the larger purpose is important to keep in mind, it’s also important to start with what’s at hand. What are the interesting tasks and projects that your teachers are already providing? What types of advisory / conferencing is already in place? Where do teachers and students get to know each other best right now? In every school, there are solid approaches to teaching and learning happening every day. A digital badge and portfolio initiative can build on that good work, and amplify it into something better for all students.

Chapter 5: Tours – Student Presentations of Badges and Portfolios

This post is part of the online study group and discusses Chapter 5 of David Niguidula’s book Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios, published by ASCD.

Essential Question:

  • How do students present their best work?

In this social media age, it’s very easy for anyone to send their thoughts into the world. It only takes a few moments to create a tweet, a post or a text  – and that is fine for communication that is only meant to last for a few moments.

Every now and again, though, it’s useful for students to be a little more deliberate. A “tour” is a type of presentation where students can take a step back, look at their accomplishments, and consider what they have achieved.

A tour typically consists of multiple entries and a reflection. The students are given a set of guidelines for what they need to present; this lets the students curate the entries in the portfolio, and create a presentation. Teachers then review the work and determine if the tour meets the expectation (and thus, earn a badge).

One thing that’s important about a tour is that it is a collection of work. It’s not often that students are asked to look at more than one entry at a time; here, the student is deliberately being called upon to discuss how different entries show a variety of skills and abilities.

The guidelines of the tour can vary. Chapter 5 in the book discusses a number of different tours, including:

  • Subject-specific. Students can present a tour of their best work in a subject, such as writing or the arts. For the tour, the student can select the best work in different categories; for a writing tour, this might mean a best example of a report, a narrative, a work of fiction, and so on.
  • End-of-year / term. In this tour, students show their best work from a certain period of time. A middle or high school student might select a best entry from each class; an elementary student could show a sample of reading, writing, math and each subject. The tour, then, will show all the areas that the student is studying, and the student will discuss where their strengths lie and where they need improvement.
  • Growth over Time. The guidelines for a “growth” tour asks the student to select an entry from earlier in time, and to compare it to a more current entry. For example, we could record a video of a first grader reading independently at the beginning of the year, and then make another recording at the middle or end of the year. In the tour, we can review those two entries and see the students’ progress. (You can imagine the same kind of tour for older students who are, say, learning music or a world language.)
  • College / Career Readiness. This kind of tour can start by asking students what type of career they would like to pursue, and to select entries demonstrating they are ready for the college / career requirements. For example, a student interested in health care could include evidence of their work in science, and also include the reasons she wants to pursue this field (such as an essay on how a health care worker helped someone in her family). The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success has helped make it easier for connect this kind of tour and reflection to be part of the college admissions process; you can hear more in our webinar on New Directions in College Admissions here.

The book goes into more detail about how these tours can be assessed; as the Chapter 4 blog post mentioned, feedback is a critical component of any successful digital badge initiative. The presentation of a tour can be both an assessment and a celebration of accomplishments.

How do your students demonstrate the work in their portfolios? Please feel free to comment below.

Chapter 4: Effective Feedback and Rubrics

This post is part of the online study group and discusses Chapter 4 of David Niguidula’s book Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios, published by ASCD.

Essential Question:

  • How do we decide what’s “good” or, at least, “good enough”?

Over the years that I’ve worked with digital portfolios, there’s one key element that separates successful implementation from those that go through the motions: feedback.

If students are going to put in the effort to assemble a portfolio, they want to know that someone is going to pay attention to it. If at the end, all that happens is the student gets a “check-plus” or some such grade, students are much less likely to do a good job.

Badges themselves provide one level of feedback; when a teacher marks that a student has completed one of the requirements, and the student sees that they have filled in part of the digital badge, that visual cue is useful.

But perhaps more importantly, digital badges and portfolios offer an opportunity for schools to think about their assessment practices in new ways. In particular, the essential question asks, “How do we decide what’s good?” For many schools, the key word in that question is “we.” Schoolwide badges offer an opportunity for faculty to talk about what they collectively agree is “good enough.”

Chapter 4 of the book provides a few strategies for schools to think about the assessment work:

  • Common Rubrics. When students submit work for a badge, you can have that work assessed with the same rubric. For example, if part of a science badge is to submit a lab report, your school could use (or create) a common rubric. This way, if a student submits a sample from biology or chemistry or earth science, the teachers can use the same lab report rubric and focus on the same qualities. (A quick note – this is NOT implying that all tasks have to be assessed with common rubrics; teachers can certainly personalize their assignments by adding task-specific rows to the common rubric.)
  • Calibration. In a calibration exercise, teachers get together and score a few pieces of student work with the same rubric. The idea is to see where teachers agree and disagree on the scores, and to come to a consensus about what qualifies as “meeting” expectations. By doing this on a few student entries (particularly those near the “meeting” / “not meeting” line), schools can gain more consistency in the scoring.
  • Focusing on common skills, such as “problem solving.” It can help to go beyond the specific content-area skills, and to look at the “soft skills” that come up in all classes. Creating or using a rubric for items such as “problem solving,” “working collaboratively” or “demonstrating citizenship” can help define what we really mean by those terms.

It’s easy, when thinking about digital badges and portfolios, to focus on the process of assembling the student work. Deciding what goes in, what tasks are badge-worthy, and figuring out the logistics of uploading are all, of course, legitimate items for a school to work on. Still, if you want to make the portfolios “stick,” and have a lifetime that extends beyond a pilot stage, schools need to pay attention to how the work will be assessed – and take the time to have the conversations among faculty and students about what it really means for work to be worthy of a badge.

What changes in your assessment practices have worked for you?

Chapter 3: Creating Portfolio-Worthy / Badge-Worthy Tasks

This post is part of the online study group and discusses Chapter 3 of David Niguidula’s book Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios, published by ASCD.

Essential Questions:

  • How do students earn the badges?
  • What goes into the portfolio?
  • How do we create portfolio-worthy tasks?

Here is where badges and portfolios become real.

Setting the vision of a graduate (Chapter 1) and defining the badges (Chapter 2) are critical to establishing the overall direction. Now, though, we have to figure out the actual work that students and teachers are going to do.

There are many, many possible tasks that can be used to earn a badge; they can range from the very simple in-class assignment to long-term projects, to anywhere in between. The thing to keep in mind is this: what we want to see is convincing evidence that the student has completed the requirements. This Is what differentiates digital portfolios and badges from traditional transcripts – a reader can look to see what the student actually did to earn the badge.

In looking at many portfolios over the years, students and teachers tend to navigate to the same kinds of tasks. Chapter 3 describes the qualities of these tasks; among those qualities, we know that a task will be “portfolio-worthy” or “badge-worthy” if the student has to put forth some real effort and will involve some level of student choice.

The best place to start is with the assignments that are already being used at your school. At the end of the year, what are the tasks that provide the best evidence – the real indicators of student mastery? What are the students going to remember a year from now?

The concepts of badges and portfolios may be new to many of your faculty. By asking the teachers to start with tasks they are already using, it helps to ground this new initiative in something familiar. The task might need a little tweaking; for example, if students have usually done some kind of presentation for a particular task, it may be helpful to figure out how to record those presentations. Still, the task should be something that the teachers are already comfortable in using.

As schools move forward with thinking about tasks, you may want to incorporate a couple other initiatives you may already be doing.

One is personalization – how can we design our tasks so that students can express their individuality? One great resource for this topic is Allison Zmuda’s Learning Personalized website. Allison and Bena Kallick in their book Students at the Center created a definition of the four personalized learning attributes. The site also has a section on reimagining assignments.

The second is project-based learning (PBL). Projects have been around forever, but recent work has helped to clarify what makes a project a true learning experience. A few resources on this:

So, consider this while you think about your tasks – what kinds of things do you want to see going on in the classroom? Connecting the tasks with the badges has the potential to provide a new kind of incentive for students – and build on the things teachers are already doing.

Let’s talk more about this in the comments – what types of tasks would you include in the portfolios? What tasks would you consider “badge-worthy”?

Chapter 2: Defining Badges

This post is part of the online study group and discusses Chapter 2 of David Niguidula’s book Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios, published by ASCD.

Essential Question:

  • What do we want our students to know and be able to do?

Digital Badges are a declaration of purpose. The badges represent what we want students to achieve, and in turn, where we want to focus our teaching.

Some of the early work with digital badges has focused on defining badges in particular areas, such as community service, or demonstrating tech skills. That’s fine; it gets both students and teachers thinking about what a badge means.

Chapter 2 of the book suggests a more systematic approach. What are the skills, knowledge and habits that we want our students to possess?

It’s easy enough to come up with an initial list: students should be able to read, write, and problem solve. They should be able to work independently and to be part of a team. They should demonstrate good work habits (such as showing up on time) and strengthen their habits of mind. Undoubtedly, your school will have its own list.

One way to generate this list is simply to have all the faculty identify the different ways they see students gain skills and knowledge. You can ask, “In your roles as teachers, as coaches, as advisors, what do you see students learning?” This can create an interesting list.

This list can be a set of the different badges that students can earn. The next question becomes, which of these are required for all students, and which reflect a personal interest? Some things may be very common – for example, you may have the great majority of our students studying a second language. But is that a requirement? Would a student need to complete a World Language badge to graduate? Similarly, which habits are required?

The key here is to look at the set of badges as a whole – not just as individual items on a checklist. The required badges represent a vision of the whole child, in both academic and non-academic skills. If your goal is to have all of your students prepared for the transition to the next level , or to demonstrate college and career “readiness,” then the set of badges should represent the important elements of what it means to be “ready”

Some questions to consider:

  • What skills and knowledge are most important to you?
  • Are they all represented on your transcripts?

Chapter 1: Setting the Vision

This post is part of the online study group and discusses Chapter 1 of David Niguidula’s book Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios, published by ASCD. You can read Chapter 1 online.

Essential Questions:

  • What does mastery look like?
  • What can portfolios tell us about students as learners – and as individuals?

If your school is like most, you probably have a mission statement. And if your school’s mission statement is like most, it probably includes something about having all of our students achieve excellence (or proficiency or competency or mastery) across the curriculum.

It’s a noble goal. But what does it actually look like for students to achieve mastery?

Our traditional indicators, such as grades and test scores, provide some sense of student achievement, but by definition, report card grades represent averages over a quarter or a year. “Mastery” implies something different: that a student can demonstrate skills or knowledge in a sustained way when the situation calls for it.

At the same time, there is a desperate need to become more personalized in our approach to education; students need to show how they learn best, what their interests are, and their particular struggles and successes.

Digital Badges and Portfolios can help schools simultaneously work towards high standards of achievement and personalized understanding of each student.

Chapter 1 begins with a few illustrations of students talking about the work they have added to a digital portfolio, and what they have done to earn a digital badge. The types of conversations can vary, based on grade level and the type of work being reviewed. But if you want to have a vision for your students, it helps to think about what you would want to hear in a conversation at your school.

If you asked a student right now to show their evidence that they have achieved mastery, what would they show you? What would mastery mean to them, to your faculty, to your parents, to your community?

The chapter talks about a few different types of portfolios (best work, subject-specific, project-based) and some ways of organizing badges (one set of “required” badges that all students need to complete and another set of “my interest” badges that are specific to the individual student).  But the set-up that will work best for your setting will stem from your purpose and vision.

As we go through the rest of the chapters, we’ll see more of the details on how badges and portfolios can be implemented. To get started, let’s talk about what a vision can look like at your school. To get the ball rolling, here are some questions:

  • What do you hope digital badges and portfolios will do for your school?
  • How can badges and portfolios represent your school’s definition of mastery?
  • What could students put into a portfolio to represent a student’s personal interests? What personal badges might they want to earn?

Please feel free to comment in the space below!  

Digital Badges and Portfolios: The Online Study Group

Welcome back to the Richer Picture blog!

Over the next six weeks, we are going to discuss the essential questions of setting up digital badges and portfolios.

We’ll follow the outline of my new book, Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios. Each week, we’ll talk about a different chapter:

I’ll post a short item here in our blog, and you’ll be able to contribute to the conversation in the comments. (If you are coming to this page after the original study session dates, please feel free to add to the conversation anyway! We’ll keep checking this site over time.)

We hope you’ll share your thoughts about what works for you, what obstacles you might face in your setting, and how you have been able to overcome them. Everyone is welcome!