How do I Meet the Needs of ALL Students: Data Tells the Story

by | Mar 16, 2018


“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 discuss student progress. Quite often, I wonder, are these statements based on data? Or are these statements based on feelings, and opinions, and not facts? If data was not used, quite the assumption has been made, and more digging needs to be done to identify the root cause of student performance.

We have all used the words ‘data-driven decision-making to inform instruction,’ however, is this process being implemented with fidelity.  These words seem simple:  All instructional decisions in the classroom should be data-based. This means ongoing assessments should be delivered, graded, recorded, and regularly analyzed to measure student growth over time and to identify achievement gaps. When the right data is gathered and analyzed, educators can identify the skills students have mastered and provide additional support to students who did not master the content taught. Educators cannot address the needs of all students without assessing whether students learned what was taught.

There are 5-steps in the Date-Driven process:

  • Gather Student Achievement Data
  • Administer Formative, Benchmark, and Summative Assessments
  • Grade Assessment Results
  • Record Assessment Results: Chart to Monitor and Measure Growth Over Time
  • Analyze Assessment Results: Plan Instruction

Ongoing Data Collection

The first step in this process is to gather the data and establish a baseline. This means that educators should administer a preliminary assessment to determine student proficiency levels to monitor and measure growth over time.  Most educators grapple with how they can measure student growth when a clear starting point has not been established. This would be like trying to calculate how many pounds you’ve lost without knowing your starting weight.

Deliver Assessments

Establishing a baseline is excellent, but if we stop at this point in the process, then the data tells us what the student can do at one point in time. Remember, the operative word is ongoing. Educators must conduct informal, formal, benchmark, and summative assessments on a regular basis.  Schools should provide guidance at the beginning of each school year that outlines the expectations for assessing student learning.  When students are only assessed monthly or quarterly, the achievement gap widens because the skills needed to make adequate progress are not addressed timely.  There is a wide range of assessments that are available, and there are prerequisite and requisite skills that must be assessed, which means in each classroom the assessments that may be administered will look very different because they should be based on what information will be needed to address the needs of individual students. This means that the only way to address the needs of all students, assessments cannot be adopted as a one-size-fits-all approach.  Educators must identify the types of assessments that their students need and create a schedule that provides time to administer and analyze the results.

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. Administering, reviewing, and grading assessments the same day is critical because it ensures that instructional decisions are being made based on real-time data to determine whether students have mastered the content taught. When students are not assessed on an ongoing basis, they often fall through the cracks and are labeled at-risk learners.  Educators cannot wait for students to fail before addressing their learning gaps. 

Record the Data

Recording the data is another core component in this process. Educators start with student names and scores before recording the data in an organized and systematic way.  When raw data is organized and systems are in place to track this information, educators can identify trends, and then they can create robust lessons to address the findings.  Data can be recorded manually or virtually, which means the information will be available so that teachers can plan instruction based on their student’s instructional needs and close achievement gaps.

Analyze the Data

With all of the administrative work completed, the next step is to analyze the assessment results.  Data can only be used to make decisions and to plan the next steps when educators take the time to analyze the results.  Data must be uploaded into a chart that provides the opportunity to manipulate the information in a graph format because this visual representation will provide information about student performance.  During this stage, I would encourage educators to think outside the box, remember that the one-size-fits-all approach only addresses the needs of a few, some but not ALL students.

Creating a data-driven classroom can be challenging. If you are searching for more guidance, an article published by Getting Smart highlights three tips on doing just that.

Data tells the story, and you will be amazed at the impact on student achievement when educators gather, analyze, and use this information to plan instruction, differentiation strategies, and intervention supports. For example, the analysis part of this process provides educators with the opportunity to review individual student performance, individual student trends, overall class performance, overall class trends, trends across specific components of each assessment (i.e. comprehension, phonics, sight words, etc.), trends in attendance, trends in suspension and office referrals, trends in scope and sequence and pacing guides, etc.

When educators have identified the instructional focus based on the assessment results, then they are able to answer the questions that will guide the process to improve student achievement.

  • Did you observe any trends?
  • What skills have students mastered?
  • What are the gaps in learning?
  • Which students need additional support to narrow and close achievement gaps?
  • Is attendance a variable that must be considered for students who have not mastered grade-level content?
  • Are the same students struggling each week?
  • Which students are ready to move on?
  • What skills need corrective instruction?

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 the questions above is going to come in handy. Now that educators have successfully identified all students’ instructional needs, they can now create a pacing guide and lesson plans that include strategies to differentiate instruction, small or one-to-one intervention for students who may need intensive supports to address their skill gaps. It’s extremely important to share assessment results with each student and provide actionable feedback that identifies what steps you will take to address their concerns and include the student in this process because they must not expect educators to do all the heavy lifting; students must be actively engaged in this process.  Students must know what is expected of them instructional and behaviorally to ensure that they are set up for success.

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 infrastructure needed to address the needs of ALL students. When we adopt a data-driven growth mindset, we will be equipped to address the unique needs of each learner. The goal, as an educator, is to ensure students become life-long learners. Data-based decision-making achieves that and diminishes the opportunity for false assumptions.

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