Think Ahead About MDE's Parent Dashboard

Bob Kefgen's picture

Last week, the Michigan Department of Education Released their new Parent Dashboard, a new online data portal that is replacing the old color-coded school report card and other previous school accountability systems. The new dashboard eschews letter grades for schools in favor of simplified analytics—like student growth and proficiency—that are compared against both the statewide average and other schools with similar demographics.

As a Principal, whether or not you think MDE's new dashboard is likely to be a topic of discussion in your building or community, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with what the dashboard shows about your district. Below, we've broken down the basic features of the new dashboard, given you some questions you may want to think about ahead of time in case you get questions, and answer a few questions you are likely have.

The Dashboard

Each school building has its own dashboard landing page that includes basic information about the school itself (address, phone, website, name of the Principal or other school leader, etc.) and charts (see the sample to the right) breaking down eight different statistics:

  • Performance Summary (proficiency)
  • Progress Summary (growth)
  • Graduation Rate (four-year cohort)
  • Advanced Coursework (AP, IB, CTE, dual enrollment, and early/middle college classes)
  • Post-Secondary Enrollment two- or four-year programs)
  • On-Track Attendance (student not chronically absent)
  • English Learner Progress (growth on WIDA test)
  • Assessment Participation

The site is reasonably simple and intuitive, so there is no need for a belabored description. Suffice it to say that there are a number of features that you can use to manipulate the data (switching from bar charts to line graphs, disaggregating data by subgroup, etc.) and several drill down menus you can use to find other data not listed on the main landing page (everything from post-secondary persistence rates to expulsions to student/staff ratios). Perhaps most helpful for Principals and other educators looking for more information about their school's scores are the question mark icons (see the upper right corner of the sample chart) you can click to get an explanation of how the data were derived.

Things to Consider

Because the Dashboard doesn't simply assign letter-grades, but rather gives comparative data, it invites conversations that you can have with your community about how your school stacks up. The flip-side of that coin is that for those conversations to be successful, it helps to be familiar with your school's data and to think ahead about what questions you might get asked. To that end, you may want to take a few minutes to visit, look up your building, and jot down some thoughts:

Here are some things you may want to consider:

  • What strengths or weaknesses do you see?
  • Are these measures valid?
  • What should be included that isn't?
  • What questions do you have/anticipate?
  • What narrative do you see in the data?

Principals are busy people, so note that this does not need to take long. When we did this activity at the most recent MASSP's Board of Directors meeting, we did a quick review and discussion in under 10 minutes. The goal is to simply familiarize yourself with this site in case you get questions or want to use it for a parent meeting.

Finally, remember not to just look through the site as a building leader, but as a parent.


If you take a few minutes to parse your school's Dashboard site, you may notice some issues or find questions you can't answer. Here are a few quick notes on known issues with responses from MDE where available.

No, you can't drill down to find out which similar schools you are being measured against in the "similar schools" comparison. MDE recognizes this shortcoming and plans to add this as a feature in their next phase of development. The comparisons are made using 30 schools (regardless of geographic location) with the most similar demographics to the school you are viewing. Four characteristics are used in determining similar demographics: the number of students enrolled in a school, the student-teacher ratio, the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch, and the amount of money the school spends per student. Note, though, that if you click on any chart, you can toggle the comparison between those that are demographically most similar and those 30 schools that are geographically closest to your building.

Some individual school data—like assessment participation or expulsions—displays as "<5%" or ">95%" for the individual school, but for the comparison data, displays actual numbers (check out your school's assessment participation numbers and you'll likely see what we mean). In both of the cases cited here, the result is that individual schools often look to a casual observer as though they are doing worse than similar schools or the state average. According to MDE, FERPA prevents them from displaying actual values for an individual school, but the same prohibition doesn't apply to groups of schools, hence the discrepancy. MASSP is working with MDE on a solution.

Advanced coursework numbers for several schools appear to have issues. Specifically, many of the Principals we've spoken with indicate that the number of students in their building participating in some form of advanced coursework is higher than what is reflected on the dashboard. The underlying cause of the discrepancy is as yet unclear. We are working figure out where the discrepancy arises and what can be done to resolve it. MDE has told us that the data are pulled from the TSDL, STARR and CTEIS reports from 2015-16 to 2016-2017, so you may want to check this reports as a first step.