School Leader Dashboards: equipping school principals with timely information for student learning

The technology team on the Education initiative is the long-term engineering partner to the Summit Learning Program. Through Summit Learning, students learn through challenging projects that reflect the world around them; meet with a dedicated teacher mentor once a week to track progress towards their personal goals; and develop the invaluable lifelong skill of self-direction.

This holistic school experience is supported by the Summit Learning Platform, an online tool within the program that empowers teachers to customize instruction to meet the needs of each and every student while empowering students to learn in a variety of ways, set and track progress towards goals, and more. More than 380 schools, 72,000 students and nearly 3,800 educators across 40 states are participating in the Summit Learning Program and using the Platform.

If you missed our previous post on mentoring, check it out here.

What are School Leader Dashboards?

A School Leader Dashboard for an example school

The School Leader Dashboards seek to make a school leader’s job easier. We want to help answer the question, “What is the current health of my school?” Along with that, we want to enable school leader’s efforts to help teachers improve instruction, and pinpoint which groups of students or teachers need support.

From talking to school leaders, we realized that they have a number of responsibilities, and may not have much time in their day to coach teachers or focus on academics. For that reason, it’s important that the tools we offer are easy-to-use and quickly provide school leaders with relevant information about their school.

The School Leader Dashboards aggregate information about student outcomes up to a school level view, so school leaders can easily see overall progress as well as potential areas to focus on.

Along the way, we iterated on features that would make users lives easier. School leaders mentioned that when looking at information on student performance, it was helpful to know some supplementary information about the actions students were taking. For instance, if a student is struggling to keep up with the pace of content in a course, school leaders want to know whether the student is attempting to do the work, since it’s a very different conversation if a student is not attempting the content as opposed to a student who is attempting, but unable to keep up. By closely collaborating with educators, we discovered a number of these low-effort, big-impact improvements that ultimately helped make the product successful.

What’s a technical challenge your team solved when building it?

There were two main technical issues we had to solve:

  1. Creating these aggregations in real-time on production web-servers would be slow
  2. We don’t want to bloat our production database with logs from high-frequency events like login attempts

To solve these challenges, we chose to store and aggregate the relevant information on separate databases than the ones we use for production. We built a system that generates the proper aggregations in the warehouse and then transfers them into the production Postgres database. The result is that school leaders get fast load times since the aggregations are pre-made, but the information only updates once per day.

First, we created a job to generate the relevant aggregations and store them in new tables in the data warehouse. This was done using a combination of SQL and Python commands in conjunction with our own version of Airflow. We then take the end result table, upload it to AWS S3, and download it into Postgres, where it’s populated into the production database for the next day.

Why did you join CZI as an engineer? What do you like about engineering at CZI?

I joined the education team right out of college. I was drawn in by the belief that I could use my skills in engineering to help the education space, and help teachers and students end up with better outcomes than they would otherwise get.

That continues to be one of the key reasons that I stay at CZI. I don’t see another place I could work where I could use my skills and the things I bring to a team to help benefit the world like I can here.

Another thing I like about this team is the people. The people here are kind, caring, and extremely talented. That’s a really inspiring combination. It creates opportunities for me to be mentored, where I can get better at my job and become a better engineer thanks to these people who are both very willing to help and really good at what they do.

I’ve also been given opportunities to do new things and take on bigger challenges year after year. I’m the Engineering lead for the school leader dashboards. I talked to a lot of educators and experts at Summit to figure out what a product might look like. So it was kind of my project from the start, and as other people joined, I was the one driving the technical roadmap.