02 April 2017

The Shape of Things

Part of my day job is devoted to helping people in my district use data effectively. That could mean supporting the superintendent, working with teachers, or building tools for principals to monitor school improvement goals. The job is wide-ranging and is never dull. The challenge is to not only get people to think critically about the questions they want to answer with data, but also to have them think beyond student achievement.

Recently, I built a tool to help a principal get a glance of his whole school at one time in terms of attendance and discipline. The classrooms are represented like this:

Discipline is on the left and attendance is on the right. The total number of referrals and absences is represented for a given month, with September at the top and June (eventually) at the bottom.

A grade level might look like this:

What do you notice? Do you wonder why Teacher 2 has so many more absences than Teacher 4? Or maybe why discipline referrals had such a jump for Teacher 4 in March?

And here's another grade level:

Something is going on with Teacher C. The number of student absences is way out of proportion for the rest of the grade level. What are Teachers B and D doing to (a) get their students to school on a regular basis and (b) avoid referrals to the office?

If you were a principal, where would you focus some resources? If you were a teacher, what would you think if you saw your classroom data represented this way?

This display is not an end point. There are no numbers...just shapes and patterns and questions. But I like to think that if we provide some different ways to represent what happens in our schools that we can get to the types of conversations we most want to have.

If you're interested in how to build these charts, the basics are posted on my Excel blog.

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