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Data walls fortify school improvement process

By May 20, 2014June 13th, 20163 Comments

Girl at desk data wallRecently, in a meeting with administrators in a district I have been working with for the past year, the discussion turned to the use of data walls—the posting and displaying of data in schools. While most of the principals in the meeting were proud to display their data, one principal in particular had a visceral reaction to the idea. Her teachers didn’t have time to build data displays, she said, nor would she ask them to make time to do this. Furthermore, she felt displaying data could make some kids feel embarrassed or discourage them.

The principal’s reaction was a little surprising, considering that we had been focused all year on gathering, analyzing, and using data to drive instruction. For some educators, though, being open about how kids are performing and what’s going on in classrooms requires a shift in mindset—but it’s one that’s well worth the effort.

Teachers and principals in this particular district, using the school improvement process model from McREL’s Success in Sight®, have learned to “take stock” and ask themselves questions like What are the facts the data tells us? and What are the root causes of the data? The next step is to “focus on the right solution,” in which the question is, What is our plan of action to address the root causes?

Data walls are a natural extension of the data-driven instruction process. While we don’t advocate sharing individual student data publicly, we believe there is value in sharing school or classroom data. Educators must be willing to look at, share, and talk about the data, in order to “take collective action” and build a unified focus on improvement across the school community.

When teachers and schools are ready to “deprivatize” their practices, classroom and school data walls become the norm. Teachers in grade-level or content-area meetings often discuss data and share ideas on how to change their instruction to improve results or to enhance results. Similarly, when schools use data formatively and openly, they move beyond worrying about negative judgments to developing solutions through positive school and community engagement.

What do you think about displaying data? How have data walls changed your classroom or school conversations about school improvement?

2012_Frazee_WEBA former middle and high school teacher, principal, and educational consultant, Dana Frazee, McREL’s Consulting Director of Systems Transformation, helps schools and districts implement McREL’s Success in Sight® approach to school improvement.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Michelle Radtke says:

    Displaying data on data walls is essential to school improvement. I believe we need to get past the idea that “the students that are in my classroom are only my students.” When we display the data for all of the students, all teachers should take ownership of these students. When data is displayed, teachers are able to analyze the data and take a hard look at what is working, what the struggles are and make an action plan for every student in the school. When we look at data and make it personal, more success will happen for each and every student. Data is the essential tool to aid in closing the gaps.

  • Michelle, yes, I totally agree! The words “my students” needs to mean all of the students in the building.

  • Amy Sullins says:

    My school just recently designed a data wall for all students using STAR Reading and Math scores, along with Dibels assessments. It has been placed in a common area that is available to all staff. I think it is a great idea and will likely lead to professional discussions about students and hopefully lead to honest reflection from the teachers.

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