How to Make Data-Driven Instructional Decisions Which Benefit All Students

by | Sep 23, 2020 | Equity and Excellence, Instructional Strategies, School Improvement, School Leaders, Special Education, Students At Risk

In the era of COVID-19, school leaders have been inundated with more data than ever. We must not only consider data that may not be available about last year’s student performance based on state standardized tests because these exams were canceled; now, we must also consider regression in student learning.  We must acknowledge that this is a challenging task for school leaders and teachers. 

The reality is that in some cases there are no formative assessments, benchmark assessments, or summative assessment data available to analyze; due to unexpected school closures in the spring, as well as data about virus transmission so we can keep our students safe in school. In light of these unprecedented circumstances, how can we make data-driven instructional decisions to support all students—including chronically underserved populations?

How Schools Have Fallen Short in Data-Driven Decision Making

Traditionally, schools have measured student performance primarily using summative assessments. Summative assessments help teachers grade students on their comprehension at the end of an extended learning unit before moving onto the next section of the curriculum. These assessments could include:

  • End-of-unit exams
  • Essays
  • Presentations
  • Benchmark assessments

The results of summative assessments allow teachers to assign grades, and help school leaders determine whether students are ready to move into more challenging coursework at the end of each school term. However, there are several drawbacks to relying solely upon summative assessments as principals, district staff, and other school leaders make instructional decisions:

First, while summative assessments are useful in measuring student mastery of a completed learning unit, they do not provide enough information for teachers to support students throughout each learning unit. If these are the only assessments used in the classroom, teachers won’t be able to track students’ individual progress through each learning unit and modify instruction to meet the needs of vulnerable and struggling students.

Additionally, summative assessments from the 2019-2020 school year fail to show a complete picture of student learning. Many schools around the country were caught completely off-guard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and were forced to close early without a strategic plan in place to continue supporting student learning. End-of-year assessments, and even assessments given at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year to determine students’ prior knowledge, fail to highlight the nuances of our current situation.

A Better Way to Collect Data to Guide Instructional Decisions

Educational experts agree that school leaders should use data which is:

  • Collected from a wide variety of sources, including at the national, state, local, and school levels
  • Disaggregated, to identify the needs of “hidden” students who often fall through the cracks, such as English Language Learners (ELLs), students with disabilities, and other underserved populations
  • Both quantitative and qualitative, to reflect informal teacher observations of students’ needs which may not appear in quantitative metrics, and vice versa

How School Leaders Can Collect Data to Drive Instructional Decisions

Edutopia suggests that school leaders and teachers collect data from sources including:

  • Prior Knowledge Assessments — As students reenter school for the first time in nearly six months, teachers should measure prior knowledge directly related to the 2020-2021 curriculum. We must expect that, on average, students will have suffered learning loss as a result of missing so much school. However, each individual student will face challenges in different areas of the curriculum. Check out EdWeek’s tips on measuring COVID-19 learning loss, and our recent article about how IEP teams can support lapses in services for special education students.
  • Formative Assessments — Unlike summative assessments, these informal assessments are ungraded and used primarily to track students’ progress in mastering content from each unit in the curriculum. These could include short quizzes, reflective assignments, homework assignments, and more. Check out our recent article about how to include formative assessments in virtual learning environments.
  • Teacher Observations — Teachers should take note of students’ body language and facial expressions during various classroom activities. Nonverbal cues can help teachers understand which parts of the curriculum are causing confusion or anxiety, which students are feeling disengaged, and how each student prefers to learn.
  • Summative Assessments — Students must be given clear, specific expectations about how their performance in a learning unit will be measured. They also need plenty of opportunities to practice new skills, demonstrate understanding, ask questions, and have mistakes corrected through reteaching. Then, at the end of the unit, summative assessments can help teachers and school leaders understand the overall effectiveness of the instructional strategies used.
  • Student Centered Learning — Some students may need more intensive supports and individualized instruction because of outside situations that are not apparent in the classroom. For example, students may be struggling with newly-diagnosed learning disabilities, homelessness, or a lack of family members in the home who speak English.

Effectively collecting and analyzing such a wide range of data requires a strong relationship between school leaders, teachers, and Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) at your school. Schedule a free call with CSAS to learn how we can help build strong partnerships in your school through high-quality professional development.

How Student Data Should Influence Instruction

Assessments, observations, and student files can help teachers identify struggling students early and help prevent them from “falling through the cracks.” Once this data has been collected, teachers should follow up promptly with high-quality corrective instruction.

ASCD explains that “[h]igh-quality, corrective instruction is not the same as reteaching, which often consists simply of restating the original explanations louder and more slowly.” Rather, corrective instruction provides students with individualized feedback about their performance and uses new approaches to help struggling students understand the material.

Bloom’s model of mastery learning recommends this sample timeline for implementing corrective instruction in the classroom:

  1. The teacher sets expectations for the concepts and skills students should learn in an instructional unit which lasts for 1-2 weeks.
  2. Formative assessments are used to gauge student progress and provide feedback about how they can improve.
  3. The teacher assigns individualized corrective activities over the next 1-2 days which target specific learning difficulties revealed by the formative assessments.
  4. Students who do not need corrective instruction are provided with engaging enrichment activities, which are often self-guided to accommodate students’ unique interests.
  5. Students take another formative assessment to “verif[y] whether or not the corrective instructional strategies implemented truly helped students overcome their learning difficulties [and offer] students a second chance at success.”

Professional Development to Support Data-Driven Decision Making

The Center for Student Achievement Solutions promotes the use of evidence-based professional development to close the equity gap. We offer customized professional development strategies and walk alongside your school leaders to implement best practices in:

  • Virtual Learning and Blended Learning
  • Equity and Inclusion
  • Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS)
  • Gradual Release of Instruction and Responsive Teaching Strategies
  • School Improvement Plans
  • Data Collection and Analysis
  • Parental Engagement
  • And More

Schedule a free call with one of our expert consultants to start a conversation about equity and excellence at your school.