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Your Analytics Questions, Answered

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Questions about data and analytics in schools? You’ve come to the right place.

Successful analytics isn’t about collecting the data, running a few equations, and discovering instant insight. It’s about asking the right questions and using the right tools to find valuable answers. By employing data-driven strategies, districts can engage in more effective financial planning, make informed program decisions, and better understand student performance.

It may seem daunting, but we’re here to help. Below are specific questions about using analytics in your schools and districts to drive critical conversations.

Question #1:
How can you evaluate district programs using comparative analytics?

Program evaluation can be a wide and varied topic. Analytics is one tool you can use to evaluate programs that are important to you and your district.  

We will focus on comparative analytics using a three-part process to evaluate your programs.

Step 1: Identify – Identify the programs you want to compare to your peers.

The first step in this process is to identify which programs you want to compare and make an internal comparison to see which programs are leading to strong outcomes and which ones might not be. You might want to identify the programs that align with your district’s strategic plan or that your community regularly asks you questions about. Are there different groups of students that can be identified as underperforming compared to other programs or as your baseline of student performance in the district?


Step 2: Peer Groups – Think about what peer groups you want to consider.

The next step is identifying your peer groups and thinking about who you want to be in your peer groups. Do you want to use a local peer group for comparison or a statewide peer group? A best practice is to set both up as they may have different applications for different comparisons.

It is best practice to have both a local peer group and a state peer group. You also want to set up a statewide peer group. An advantage of a peer group within your entire state is that you can compare to districts that are similar in size and student makeup. As you identify districts that are performing well with students, that may identify an area of possible improvement within your district, which you can look to action by phoning a friend and finding out what programs are working well in their district.

Step 3: Measure & Report – How do you use your results to strengthen your programs?

The last step is to take action on what you find from your analysis. What does this look like in practice? This comparative visual is a student spending compared with state student performance results.

You have the operating expense per pupil on the Y-axis. On the X axis, you have the student’s performance on a state standardized test. Each dot represents a district and its performance on the same state assessment.

The top left will show that districts are spending more with lower student performance. On the bottom left, we’ll show districts spending less with lower student performance. On the top right, you have higher spending and higher student performance; on the bottom right, you have lower expenditure and higher student performance.

You can begin to take action on these findings by asking questions such as, are they spending less than you yet getting higher performance? Where do you want your district to be in this chart? If you set a good peer group, the makeup of students should be similar to yours. You can use this as an opportunity to contact your peers, see what you can learn from them and how they are running programs, and see if it’s something you can replicate or adopt in your district.  


  • You can use comparative analytics in any number of ways.
  • You can use internal analytics to compare the effectiveness of different program areas against base student groups.
  • You can use peer group comparisons to find the best practices of your local and statewide peers, and you can use different peer groups to drive decisions in your district.


Question #2:
How Do We Track Program Spending Throughout the Year and Compare It to Our Budget?

When utilizing budget analytics, we recommend the same three-part process to evaluate your budget:

Step 1: Identify – Identify the programs you want to track spending on and identify those with elements of your account code string:

When you consider identifying those programs you may want to track, think about the programs you are often asked about. This is an example of some of the most popular programs you may be asked to track within your district.

You can report budget variances for programs such as special education, compensatory education, Bilingual education, and Career and Technical Education. This report highlights those programs with the largest spending levels. You can also see how you’re spending in the current year versus the prior year using simple charts and graphs.

Step 2: Examine – Track those programs with identified budget codes.

Next, you’ll want to track those programs monthly to avoid surprises at the year’s end. You want to go through and see what you expect to be spending, and then you can compare those against your actual expenditures. Those variances you identify throughout the year can be reported to your board. Additionally, if you expect to overspend a program, you’ll want to specify that. Likewise, if you’re coming underneath or favorable with a program budget, you can also identify that with your board and community.


Step 3 – Measure & Report: Measure and report on those programs’ spending.

The final step is meeting compliance requirements and reporting those results to key stakeholders. In this analysis, we identified some programs that are required by the state to be spent at a certain level. Here we’re using a simple red-green stoplight analysis to see if you meet those spending requirements.

Questions to consider:

  • Do you have enough budgeted for those programs?
  • Have we already spent sufficient year-to-date to meet that spending requirement?
  • If yes, do you know you’ve completed your spending compliance requirement?
  • If not, ensure you will spend that by the end of your school year.
  • This report also looks at a projection. Are you projected to spin that?
  • Do you have the spending plans in place to be successful and meet that spending requirement or to meet that board goal that they’ve set for spending on a particular program?

Reflection Questions:

  • Do you have programs that your community asked about and that you can report on?
  • Are you regularly communicating with your community about essential or strategic programs?

Question #3:
Where to Start with Student Performance and Program Evaluation?

Combining budget planning and comparisons is tricky during a program evaluation. How does the program impact students? How does it inform the strategic plan? Today, we want to help you get a little further along in how a program impacts students and, specifically, to look at key performance indicators that we might use to measure and evaluate student performance.

Step 1: Identify – Measure student enrollment in a specific program and assess student performance in and out of the program.

First, let’s identify student enrollment in a specific program and determine how those students perform in the program and their other academic areas.

When we look at this first visual, it’s our overall district enrollment. From early elementary through 12th grade, we can see how many students are served by grade level. Based on this visual, you’ll see that our largest enrollment is in the ninth grade.  

If we were to take this same visual and create additional filters to see how many students receive career and technical education services, we would be able to see the same visual but filtered down for CTE.

Now, we can see seventh through 12th grade. You’ll notice here that our ninth-grade enrollment is the largest. Therefore, career and technical education enrollment is tracking with the district. This is an excellent visual to see how your percentages are measuring up and how well your program is tracking. This shows equitable access for all students to this program.

Step 2: Examine – Take a critical look at students receiving additional services within a program and determine gaps and gains.

If we wanted to evaluate how those students are also performing, we could segregate students currently in career and technical education and assess their performance across all their courses. For instance, the visual below shows all students in career and technical education and their grades earned in each course they are currently enrolled in. We can see advanced placement, dual credit, and honors courses and the breakdown of Fs, Cs, Bs, and As rates for these students within those particular courses.

For instance, over 50% of students who are in CTE are earning As in their AP courses. This is a great visual to be able to monitor how well students who are in these programs are performing as compared to students outside of the program.

Step 3: Measure & Report – Based on the findings, what are possible next steps for investing in students within this program?

Next, we’ll take a moment to critically examine the students who receive additional services within the program and where gaps and gains might occur. Based on the findings you’re seeing within your program evaluations, what might be the next step for investing in the students within these programs to see more success?

If you want to look specifically at the program, we’ll need a metric matching the program. For instance, for career and technical education, frequently career readiness is measured through industry certifications. Here we can see ninth through 12th-grade students who have earned industry certifications.

This means that the student has completed coursework and earned the opportunity to take a certification exam and earned that credential. Here we see that the 12th-grade certification earning is at the highest level as the students go through the program. This indicates that students progress through a program and stay within the selected through their 12th-grade year.

When students earn their industry credentials, it’s valuable to evaluate who those students are. Students in Career and Technical Education programs may receive additional services.

This visual measures the same set of students shown on the previous chart. It provides additional visibility into students who receive language services, students who experience poverty, and students who receive special education services. You can also look at male and female performance in industry certification exams. Whatever you choose to measure as a community can be tracked and measured using the data in student analytics. You can answer those strategic questions your district cares about most.

Then we can ask the bigger question. Based on that, what are our possible next steps in investing in students within this program? What collective strategic plans must be in place for continuous improvement as a community?

We hope the responses to these three questions underscore the paramount role of analytics in enhancing the functioning of school districts. Using a strategic, three-step process that leverages analytics for program evaluation, budget tracking, and student performance assessment can help districts answer critical questions for their community. Analytics can be a powerful educational tool, supporting continuous improvement and providing valuable insights to address the most crucial strategic questions.