“My students aren’t making progress.”
“Only about half of my class can do it.”
“He/She just doesn’t get it.”
Sound familiar? These phrases are commonly used when we are discussing student progress. Quite often I wonder, what are they really basing these judgment statements on? Are they using student achievement data? If not, then quite the assumption has been made and more digging needs to be done.
The rule itself seems simple: All instructional decisions in the classroom should be data-based. This means ongoing assessments should be delivered, graded, recorded, and analyzed regularly to measure student growth and to identify skill deficits. Data-driven decisions provide educators with the appropriate information to make instructional decisions to ensure that we address the instructional needs of ALL students.
The 5 steps that are involved in being data-driven are as follows:
Ongoing Data Collection
Step one in the infamous routine of data collection is to establish a baseline. This means that conducting a preliminary assessment to determine initial levels of performance for each student is necessary to evaluate growth over time. How can one measure progress or growth if there is no clear starting point? This would be like trying to calculate how many pounds you’ve lost without knowing your starting weight.
Establishing a baseline is great, but if we stop at this point in the process then the data just tells us what the student can do at one point in time. Remember the operative word is ongoing. It is important that assessments are conducted regularly. Quarterly or even monthly assessments are not enough. Given the wide range of assessments available and the endless variety of skills that may require assessment, this could look very different for each class. The key is that the assessments, however they look, are happening on a consistent and regular basis. This can be done by building time into a routine schedule.
Grade the Assessments
This seems simple enough. Students are given an assessment and then it is graded. The key to grading, however, is getting it done as soon as possible. Conducting, reviewing, and grading the assessments the same day is key to making sure those instructional decisions are based on new data and current levels of performance. By waiting to grade assessments, the opportunity to maximize growth is critically hindered.
Record the Data
Recording the data is a critical component in this process. Prior to recording the data, there is only a pile of names and scores. Establishing a well-organized method for tracking raw data will provide the information that is needed to identify trends and aide in providing meaningful feedback. Recording data can be done manually or virtually, but ensuring a consistent method will help ease the process and achieve maximum results.
Analyze the Data
With all of the dirty work done, next is analysis. Data can only be used to make decisions and to plan the next steps when you take the time to analyze the results. Graphing during this step is pertinent and will allow a visual analysis of the data to identify and chart trends. During this stage, I would encourage educators to think outside the box, remember the one-size-fits-all approach only addresses the needs of a few, some but not ALL students.
Data tells the story and you will be amazed at the impact on student achievement when we analyze and plan the next steps for instruction, differentiation, and intervention supports. For example, the analysis provides educators with the opportunity to review individual student performance, individual student trends, overall class performance, overall class trends, trends across certain components of each assessment (i.e. comprehension, phonics, sight words, etc.), trends in attendance, trends in suspension and office referrals, trends in pacing, etc.
Once we have created graphs and the areas of instructional focus are identified, now we must ask and answer questions that will guide the process to improve student achievement. Did you observe any trends? What are the areas of strength? What are the areas of weakness? Which students are in need of additional assistance? Are the students meeting mastery? Analyze attendance, are the students that struggled the same students that were absent often? Are the same students struggling each week? Which students are ready to move on? What areas need to be re-taught?
Plan of Action
This is the ‘Now What’ stage. With the data gathered, charted, and analyzed, now what? What do the students need to be successful? This is where answering those questions is going to come in handy. With areas of need identified for each of your students, now is the time to problem-solve and plan for instruction, differentiation, and intervention supports. Establish a brief plan of action for each student and/or class as a whole. Remember to talk to students about their performance on each assessment and their progress over time. It is important that each student is aware of how they are doing.
Feedback will allow students the opportunity to practice skills that require additional focus as well as celebrate accomplishments.
Using data-based decision making in the classroom provides the infrastructures needed to address the needs of ALL students. When we adopt a data-driven mindset, only then are we able to address the unique needs of each individual learner. The goal, as an educator, is to ensure students are set up for continued success. Data-based decision making achieves that and diminishes the opportunity for false assumptions.
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