In a June 2015 national survey of 4,600 teachers titled Teachers Know Best: Making Data Work for Teachers and Students, the following responses about data were obtained:
- 78% of teachers surveyed believe that data is important to obtain valid information about the current performance of their students’ expected progress in the future. Data identifies misconceptions about what’s working and what’s not.
- 69% of teachers believe that tailoring instruction to meet the needs of individual students is required to improve student achievement.
- 61% of teachers believe that data and data tools make them better teachers.
- 91% of teachers believe that data tools provide very important information about how the entire class is doing.
Are your students on track to meet end-of-year learning objectives?
One of the biggest challenges for classroom teachers is accurately determining to what extent students are achieving their academic goals. Without valid data, teachers don’t have the information they need to inform instruction. With data, the second half of the year can be extremely productive. Obtaining information now, while there is still time to modify instruction, can make a tremendous difference.
Step One: Determine the end-of-year expectations for student achievement by defining the content objectives that will be measured.
Although a clear understanding of what students need to know and be able to do by the end of the year may seem obvious, it is surprising how often the learning goals are not clearly defined and communicated to teachers or students. Will achievement be measured by a specific score on a standardized test, demonstrated proficiency on specific competency-based outcomes, passing grades on criterion-referenced assessments? Does the teacher have access to the specific instructional objectives that will be measured? These resources are often available but may need to be requested by teachers.
Step Two: Identify the data tools that are available to teachers and can be used to collect and analyze student information.
Data tools are incredibly important to busy teachers who don’t have the time to manually create spreadsheets to track progress. In order to effectively measure student progress toward academic goals, teachers need to know where students started (baseline, pre-test) and each student’s current level of performance (mid-year assessment). These tools should correlate to the end-of-year achievement goals. For example, if first grade students are expected to decode regularly spelled one-syllable words, what assessment is being used to determine if students are meeting this goal? Are students making significant progress toward the goal based on where they started? The use of software that correlates to the standards and provides this individual and class data is invaluable for getting accurate information on the status of learning. If there is no data tool available, incorporate formative assessments to determine this status. This is the perfect time of year to do so.
Step Three: Confirm that instruction matches the goals for student achievement.
Are all of the learning objectives for the year included in the plan for instruction? In one school where standardized testing results were used to measure success, math teachers met at mid-year to look at the content standards that would be assessed and realized that a math unit assessed at the end of 8th grade wasn’t part of the curriculum until 9th grade. One adjustment during second semester allowed 8th grade teachers to more closely align their instruction to the appropriate expectations for their students. Planning with the end in mind allows teachers to make mid-course corrections to spend more time now on essential skills that students will need later.
Step Four: Reflect, Review, and Revise
If an analysis of data shows that those first graders aren’t yet proficient at decoding one-syllable words or the 8th graders aren’t demonstrating competency on the math skill, January may be the best time to reflect on instruction and make revisions. By reflecting on the lessons already taught during first semester, teachers can often develop meaningful theories to identify and explain poor progress. Here are some questions to get you started:
- Was this lesson explicitly taught with enough depth and detail?
- Were the instructional materials effective?
- Was there sufficient time for practice and corrective feedback?
- Were there reasons that instruction didn’t occur as planned? (For example, many students were out sick due to a flu epidemic and missed the lesson.)
- Was there a review of student work from a given lesson to see what might be missing?
While a checklist can be used for reflection, it is often most valuable to simply ask, “What are some possibilities that might explain why students aren’t doing well on this skill?” Teachers are able to use the answers to inform instruction during the remainder of the school year.
Step Five: Use Data to Meet the Needs of Each Student
By January, teachers have valuable student data collected over several months: authentic classroom activities, hours of student observation, and the results of formal and informal assessments. Software that tracks student performance on specific skills can also be a useful source of information. Mid-year data allows teachers to engage in evidence-based decision making to determine if lessons need to be retaught to the entire class, to a small group, or to individual students, and to provide deeper support for the lowest-achieving students. By providing focused instruction and resources, teachers can often help students meet or exceed benchmarks. If additional support does not result in progress, this is a critical time to refer students for more intensive intervention. Waiting until later in the year may mean that students miss the opportunity for assistance.