Having easily accessible data helps administrators make informed decisions.

Difficult. Clunky. Frustrating. Those were three words often used by administrators, teachers, and staff to describe our previous data warehouse. Because the system was complicated, people didn’t use it. Instead, student achievement data was stored in disparate locations all over the school district.

Our goal in Wayzata Public Schools was to get our data into one place. But more important, we wanted to make it easy to view, understand, and act upon that data. We also wanted to make it easy for our teachers to review and compare different types of student data–from national and state assessments to district benchmarks and formative assessments–to see how they tie together, and then use this data to inform their instruction.

Toward that end, our district purchased the web-based Performance Matters assessment and data management system in 2010. We now use the system in every school, across all grade levels, to correlate and analyze performance data from multiple sources. On one screen, we can easily compare “lagging indicators,” which include historical data such as state test scores, to “leading indicators,” which include current data such as local assessments. With this information, we can evaluate student progress toward our state standards and analyze student growth over time.

Today, we have a whole continuum of information in the Performance Matters system, from our locally developed common assessments, to the Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress assessments, to our state assessments, to national assessments like the ACT and SAT.

Having the ability to look at several data points in one place makes it easier to make decisions about interventions and extensions to help each student excel. Using the system’s interactive dashboards, we can slice and dice data to analyze student performance, and we can instantly disaggregate data for any student or group. We can also drill down and access more detailed information related to the data on the screen. The system’s color-coded reports make it easy to understand the data and to determine where we need to take action to improve student learning.

For example, last school year, our executive director of teaching and learning, Jill Johnson, visited a middle school and sat in on a few classes while the teachers taught students about inferences. Based on the lagging data they had on their students, the teachers were pretty confident that, after the first lesson, about 80 to 90 percent of students would understand the concept. But when they assessed students with student response systems, they saw that only about a third of students “got it.” Using that data, the teachers regrouped and tackled the concept again the next day. They tested students again and the proficiency level jumped to around 90 percent.

That experience demonstrated that we can look at lagging data to get a sense of how our students will perform, but we also have to look at current data to help drive our instruction.

Having the ability to immediately view student achievement data also helps with the development of our common assessments. For instance, if we see students struggled with a particular question, we can tell pretty quickly whether it was a good challenging question or a bad question that needs to be rewritten.

Since 2010, our assessment and data management system has become an important part of our continuous improvement model. It helps us make sure people have the information they need to make informed decisions and that this becomes part of their daily practice.

With the ability to access students’ historical performance on state tests and current progress on local assessments, we have the actionable information we need to improve teaching and learning from the individual student level to the district level. Even teachers in our high-performing schools and classes continually review their data to identify which areas they need to focus on and which strands they can improve. And, if there’s one thing we’ve learned, there’s always room for improvement.

Shelly Nelson is the director of curriculum and instruction for Wayzata Public Schools. Wayzata Public Schools serves the cities of Corcoran, Maple Grove, Medicine Lake, Medina, Minnetonka, Orono, Plymouth, and Wayzata in Minnesota.