Guest Blogger, Jennifer Ungermultiple pieces of large chart paper displaying data analysis that creates a hand-drawn data wall

When TERC’s Using Data facilitators work with schools and districts, we assist with establishing a continuous improvement culture that is grounded on collaborative inquiry. In the process, a lot of chart-paper-sized posters are created. There’s a sound and productive reason for this large-format paper trail!

Anyone who has engaged in data analysis with Using Data’s protocols and processes knows that we value public recording on chart paper because it gets everyone literally “on the same page” and talking together as they uncover learning challenges, own them, and identify strategic solutions.

Collaboratively, educators use a four-phase data driven dialogue process (See Using Data Tips #2-5 for descriptions of each phase of the Data Driven Dialogue process.) to engage with multiple data sources in order to discover and validate student learning challenges. Each phase of the dialogue generates four very informative charts:

1. Predictions about what the data will reveal based on what is known about instruction, programs, and students

large chart explaining Phase II: Go Visual to further group ownership2. Visual of the data being analyzed and compared

3. Observations of all the things the data are revealing

4. Inferences about why, along with plans for collecting additional data to explore the inferences for veracity.

Think about analyzing aggregate, disaggregated, strand, and item data from multiple benchmark assessments. For each data source, that’s four posters per level, times four levels per assessment in the “data drill-down.” Then figure in analysis of classroom data and student work samples. This ongoing collaborative process supports the development of a very revealing and useful data wall. It also generates many posters and a storage challenge.

Some schools are fortunate to have what they call their “data room.” It’s an extra space where data analysis takes place and previous data analyses can be posted and referenced. However, as we work with schools and districts going into their second or third year of Using Data work, we frequently hear the question: “What should we do with all this chart paper from our data analysis sessions? Should we save it?”

The data analyses and other activities related to it, such as causal and effect exploration, are important parts of a school or district’s work. You don’t want to loose it. We have brainstormed solutions to the storage challenge with many of our clients. Here are some of the strategies they have tried and found helpful:

• Make digital copies/take photos of each chart after data analysis is completed. Make certain that the copies are readable. Some schools develop Data Notebooks for each team member to store a complete set of all data analysis.

• Use a SMART board to record the data driven dialogue discussions and visual data displays. Print out copies as each phase is completed for archiving.

• While TERC uses large chart paper during professional development sessions that doesn’t mean each Data Team needs that large of a canvas! Consider using smaller post-it chart paper or folding one large piece of chart paper into quarters – one for each phase of the data-driven dialogue.

• Type the content of each phase of the dialogue into a Word document and insert photo images of any hand drawn charts and graphs. One group added Excel-generated charts to their hand-drawn data visuals.

• Find and use an appropriate digital app. (Check out Padlet and view examples at

If you decide to keep original charts in sets and display as needed:

group of teachers working together at a data wall• Adhere each set of data analysis posters to a long sheet of butcher paper, making certain to keep all the phases of analysis for each data set in order. Clearly label each roll. Then just roll and unroll as needed! One Data Team used bulletin board background paper. They color-coded data analysis findings for different content areas using different colors, i.e. blue for math, yellow for ELA, etc.

• If using “post-it” chart paper, cover the sticky part with paper that can easily be removed—to avoid having the charts stick to one another. Roll-up the charts together by data source and year. Label each roll.

• Group charts from each data source together and hang them on a display stand—similar to newspaper displays in libraries.


Other things to keep in mind:

  1. Be certain to clearly label everything. Naturally, the team is clear about the detailed particulars of the data being analyzed while they are working with it, but details can become confusing as time passes and more data are analyzed. Sample labeling: State Assessment, 2010-2013, Disaggregated Data; District Interim Math Assessment, Fall 2014, Grade 10; English Language Arts Student Work, Grade 3, Teacher Developed Item 5 for (name benchmark), etc.
  2. If posting documents in public view, keep in mind that others might walk through the room and potentially misunderstand assumptions and inferences that the Data Team may be exploring, for example, seeing Inference statements such as “Teachers need a more in-depth knowledge of mathematics.” or “The regular and special education curricula is not aligned.”  While data teams see these statements as something to explore and consider, others, without a firm understanding of the data analysis protocol may be offended—believing these statements are actually the data team’s findings. This makes a strong case for getting everyone engaged and understanding the process!
  3. When posting data, it is extremely important to be aware of student privacy laws. FERPA outlines how data can and cannot be shared (
  4. Keep in mind that the data can be used to review progress from year to year as the district and school moves toward improving learning outcomes for students and closing achievement gaps. We have Data Teams that actually leave blank space on their charts for next year’s data!
  5. And, did I mention, don’t forget to label everything!

Data analysis charts are valuable and powerful artifacts. Having access to data analysis and visuals from year to year can help the school and district, not only tell its story about teaching and learning, but also hang on to progress toward reaching its articulated vision and goals. They also can serve as touchstones and building blocks as educational initiatives shift.

So in response the question “What should we do with all this chart paper from our data analysis sessions? Should we save it?” Yes, save it, but find a way that works for you and your stakeholders!

Jennifer Unger is Director of The GroupWorks in Massachusetts and a Senior Facilitator for TERC’s Using Data Project.