Reinventing Your School Data Wall

Illustration of graph
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Schoolwide data walls track progress toward proficiency. Traditionally, a chart is displayed on the wall in a staff-only area of the school. Data is collected in areas like reading and math, and individual cards represent each student. Each card is placed in a below basic, basic, proficient, or advanced category. 

For many, this may feel like a summative approach to data collection, which leads them to ask, “Now what?” In addition, this type of tool may cause teachers to feel defeated that some of their students aren’t performing on grade level because teachers are already aware of this information.Reinventing Your School Data Wall  If the goal of a data wall isn’t centered around the idea of developing systems of support, as well as taking proactive measures that ensure students are closing the gap of achievement in targeted areas, then it may be time to reinvent your data wall and the way it’s used to set instructional goals.


It’s important that patterns and trends be visually evident in a schoolwide data wall. It should inspire conversations about the connections between the domains and give insight into areas of instruction that need to be addressed.Reinventing Your School Data Wall  When designing your data wall, consider breaking the areas of reading and math into specific domains. For example, to be considered a proficient reader, a student would need strong phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension skills. A proficient mathematician would need number sense, algebraic thinking, data, measurement, and geometry skills.

These big ideas would become the headings of your data wall so that at a glance, you can get a sense of where the breakdown of proficiency is occurring.


Once your domains are set, the next step is to determine which assessments will be used to provide the data. There are many universal screening diagnostics that break apart reading and math into domains that would determine proficiency in each of those areas of measure. Assessments like the Phonological Awareness Screening Test, a nonsense-word survey (to assess decoding), and Informal Reading Inventories (to assess fluency and comprehension) would also provide the information needed to graph student proficiency in specific domains of reading. 

Reinventing Your School Data Wall Reinventing Your School Data Wall It’s important for your team to determine and agree upon the thresholds of proficiency on these assessments so that when you are charting the students on the wall, you can visually see how many students are needing support in those domains.

For instance, if a student performed at grade level expectation on the Phonological Awareness Screening Test, they would be placed as proficient in that domain. If the same student performed at grade level below on the nonsense-word phonics screener assessment, they’d chart as basic in the area of phonics.

Predetermining these thresholds streamlines the data collection process, as well as allowing a quick turnaround for charting the data on the wall. In my experience, these diagnostics are effective when given three to four times a year, with the information on the data wall updated after each assessment.


As teachers gather the data, it’s best for it to be housed in a document that will help the administrative team develop the data wall. The team could use a sheet or Microsoft Excel document that shows each domain and how many students performed in each level of proficiency. Using colors to autofill columns in groups of 10 helps teachers see, at a glance, the overall number of students in each level. At our school, I created a data sheet that teachers use to input information for their students for each of the domains in English language arts and math.

Create headings, and make sure to display your domains horizontally across the wall in a space where only teachers and administrators often convene. Then, vertically place the grade level on one side of the wall (at my school, we place grade levels on the left). As you look across the wall, teachers in each grade level will be able to see how their students performed across the various domains in reading and math.

Consider using a color-coding system for the determined thresholds. Reinventing Your School Data Wall Within one domain, you should be able to see how many students performed below basicbasicproficient, and advanced. If these levels are color-coded, you can quickly determine if this domain should be a schoolwide focus, a grade-level focus, or an intensive intervention for specific students.


Data meetings are vital in making a data wall useful. You can find yourself rich in data points but be left feeling information poor. Therefore, it’s important to hold a data wall meeting with each grade level and instructional leader in the building. These meetings can happen three to four times a year, depending on how often the benchmark assessments are given.  

Reinventing Your School Data Wall During these meetings, teachers and leaders engage in conversations around the patterns they see in the data.

If the team notices a specific domain where all students are performing below grade level, that indicates an instructional problem that the whole grade level or even building needs to address. The focus of the data conversations should be filled with actionable steps that help teachers narrow their focus and leave with clear goals for future instruction.

These meetings also create an opportunity for teachers to see how other students are progressing outside of their own grade level. It’s a cause for celebration for all teachers when they see reds and yellows decreasing as students progress through the grades. Each time you assess students and hold meetings throughout the year, you’ll be able to see the fruits of your instructional labor.

If you’re feeling like your schoolwide data wall has become wallpaper or a place where data goes to die, this shift in approach could help make sense of the data that teachers are already collecting and also allow intentional goal-setting opportunities based on what students actually need.Reinventing Your School Data Wall  You might wonder, “Why not just keep the data in a digital document?” Displaying the data on a physical wall holds so much more power when it comes to vertical alignment conversations among the domains and keeps the focus of instruction at the forefront of the minds of those administering it.

Maintaining a bird’s-eye view of student performance building-wide is critical in the goal-setting process and encourages teachers to share ideas and best practices. Reinventing Your School Data Wall This leads to collective teacher efficacy, which, according to John Hattie’s research, is one of the leading factors for accelerated growth in student achievement.









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