Data walls are important…

What are data walls? The appearance and complexity of data walls can vary from school site to school site, but the general characteristics of these walls the same: areas where cards with students’ names and data are displayed and moved around based on different criteria. Some purposes of data walls include class assignments, identifying at-risk students based on assessment scores, tracking student progress, and discovering trends in student achievement.

Here is what a data wall might look like:


(image from

Data walls allow staff to get a more comprehensive understanding of all the student data at a school, and gain deeper insight into where each student stands and what they need for a better academic experience. They show important information regarding the student’s personal and academic profile. Having student data displayed in this way gives educators the opportunity to come together and discuss the information shown and collaborate on ways to make improvements. This collaborative environment data walls promote is crucial to both staff and student growth.

At a classroom level, data walls can guide differentiated instruction. The walls are not limited to containing data from assessments and attendance; teachers can customize their student’s data cards to contain the information that is most valuable to informing their lessons. Teachers can track how each student learns best, and which students are struggling or excelling with different standards. They can use this information to group students, plan lessons, adjust their instruction, and so forth. Differentiation in the classroom is a powerful practice for student success, and data walls significantly aid in this.

The timeliness of identification and intervention is essential for student success, and data walls make this possible. Having detailed student information readily accessible and presented in a way that is easy to work with enables educators to quickly see where individual students are struggling. Educators can note the student’s intervention strategies on their data card and track their progress. They can customize their class data wall in a way that best suits their needs as a teacher and will have the highest impact on student achievement.


…but you shouldn’t use them.

Despite the many benefits data walls have for student achievement and teacher collaboration, these physical walls create significant problems.

1. Physical data walls are incredibly time consuming.

To create data walls, teachers must manually record a variety of data and transfer that data to each student’s card. Then the cards must be maintained frequently, as the student data changes teachers have to regularly check to ensure that the data cards are up-to-date and accurate, so that they are not implementing activities and intervention based on incorrect information. With teachers already having a myriad of responsibilities and limited time, the upkeep of the data wall may become a burden and detract from instruction and intervention.

2. Physical data walls represent a limited view of student data.

Another problem with data walls is that they are limited in the data they can reflect. Every student needs a card, so each card must be small in order to fit all of the cards on the physical data wall. To do this, educators must choose several measures to include on the cards, such as math assessment scores and attendance, while ignoring all of the other student data.  Student development is much more complex than just the few measures that can be included on a single card on a physical data wall, and without a comprehensive view of measures, it is nearly impossible to fully assess a student’s needs.

3. Physical data walls are static and do not allow for flexible, real time analysis.

One of the most challenging elements of the measures on a physical data wall is that the data is static and cannot be analyzed in more detail. Once the few measures have be added to each card, teachers are not able to pivot the data to assess the students through a different set of measures. There is no flexible way to conduct more complex analysis using multiple-measure analytics using several data points like academic performance, behavior, attendance, engagement, existing interventions and programs, demographic info, etcWithout flexible multiple-measure analysis, teachers do not have the tools and data needed to deeply understand students’ needs and drive impactful instruction and decision-making.

4. Teachers cannot access the physical data wall in their classroom throughout the day.

A significant obstacle to using the data on the physical data wall is that teachers have to go to the room where the physical data wall is set up. In other words, teachers cannot access the data and analysis in real-time while planning student instruction. Often times it is inconvenient or distracting to attempt planning in the room where the physical data wall is displayed, and a great number of schools do not even have the space to dedicate and properly house these data walls, as overcrowding persists and defunct buildings are taken off line every year.

5. Physical data walls are difficult to rollover from year to year.

Educators also have to consider the rollover of the data from one year to the next. After a year is done, where do the data cards go? Are they used to create next years cards? Can valuable information on a student be easily accessed by future teachers? This process can also be time-consuming and ineffective if important information is not carried over from year to year and provided to stakeholders (teachers, parents, the student, etc.).

6. Physical data walls have limited privacy.

Perhaps the most pressing reason why data walls should not be used is the issue of data privacy. Data walls boldly display a variety of student data – data which can be personal and sensitive in nature. This personal data is needed for educators to understand the best way to support individual students and also to gain insight to any critical information about their students, but displaying the data out in the open is risky.

Data walls are often times located in rooms where doors can be locked and curtains can be drawn, but those solutions are not ideal. A door accidentally left open can be a potentially huge liability, as there are not ways to control or verify who has access to this sensitive student data.

Walls that display students’ personal data and achievement information may actually be in violation of FERPA, or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. According to an article in the Washington Post (Resource 2), openly displaying students’ names and their test scores can go against the FERPA guidelines and can ignite many issues related to privacy and data security.


Here is what you should do instead:

Data walls provide critical information to guide instruction and intervention, and allow educators to access data, collaborate, share practices, and support students in the best ways possible. They are also time-consuming, difficult to maintain long-term, and pose a significant privacy risk.

The solution is a virtual data wall.

A Virtual Data Wall is a secure online version of a physical data wall that overcomes the challenges and limitations, to provide more benefits and greater depth than previously possible.


The Virtual Data Wall may be one of the best innovations for teachers to finally have access to all of their data in a format that is easy to understand and emphasizes their unique connection with each student in their classroom.  The Virtual Data Wall allows teachers, to sort, group and filter their students using all measures of student data, and view the analysis using the friendly faces of their students.  The Virtual Data Wall is the tool that helps teachers understand and enjoy analyzing their student data, and tracking the growth, monitoring the progress from intervention strategies, and planning for individualized instruction.

The Virtual Data Wall is ideal allowing limitless ways to work with the student data. All student data points, both personal and academic, can be used to gain deep insights into the students’ histories, interests, strengths, trends, previous interventions, and more. Multiple-measure analysis finally becomes possible for each teacher, allowing educators to dive more deeply into the data to find correlations, trends, and causes. This can be done now in a matter of minutes, while being nearly impossible with manual data analysis.

The Virtual Data Wall was created by IO Education to show teachers the wealth of information that they have about their students and their academic progress, and allow them to identify what students are struggling and why. The imported data from student information systems (SIS), assessments (formative, interim, benchmark), reading assessments, teacher notes, custom measures, etc. can give a district predictive analytics to show students who are high achieving and can be challenged more, students who are facing social or emotional issues, students with disabilities and their specific needs, and students who maybe be showing early warning signs of dropping out.  And it is not just district administrators who have this type of information, teachers can access this information for the students in their classrooms.

What is important about data walls is their ability to provide teachers with clear visual information, comprehensive student data, and the opportunity to collaborate and share best practices. These positive aspects are hindered by the amount of time the upkeep of data walls consume, the limited use of analytics, and the issue of data security and privacy. These problems are resolved when physical data walls are moved to a secured online virtual data wall.


What a Data Wall Looks Like

How some school ‘data walls’ violate U.S. privacy law

Data Walls Must Come Down & We Will Help Parents Do So

IO Education – IO Insights Solution – Virtual Data Wall

Categories: Academic Research, Article, Best Practices, Learning Analytics, Personalized Learning

1 thought on “Data walls are important… And why you shouldn’t be using them”

  1. Jodi Durslag says:

    Hi, my name is Jodi Durslag and I am the Academic Instructional Coach at Eshelman Avenue elementary school part of Los Angeles unified school District. We are located in Lomita, California. I was wondering if I could pilot your program for one year? I am very interested in it. Looking forward to hearing back from you!
    Sincerely yours, Jodi Durslag

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