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

by | Sep 23, 2020


At the Center for Student Achievement Solutions, we frequently emphasize the need for principals, other school leaders, and teachers to make data-driven instructional decisions if they hope to close the achievement gap (also known as the equity gap). However, making data-driven decisions about your instructional strategies can be challenging—especially following a school year when teachers lost nearly a full semester of classroom time and annual benchmark exams with their students. How can school leaders make data-driven instructional decisions to support all students, including chronically underserved populations, in the 2020-2021 school year?

Where have schools typically fallen short in making data-driven instructional decisions?

Traditionally, teachers have always used summative assessments to gauge students’ understanding of each learning unit in the curriculum. 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

While summative assessments are useful in measuring student mastery of a completed learning unit, they don’t 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.

What types of data should be used to guide instructional decisions in schools?

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 internal levels
  • Disaggregated, to identify the needs of “hidden” students who often fall through the cracks, such as English Language Learners (ELLs), IDEA students, 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 can school leaders collect high-quality data to drive instructional decisions?

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

  • Formative Assessments — Unlike summative assessments, these informal assessments are ungraded and used primarily to track students’ progress in mastering content from each learning unit. These could include short quizzes, reflective assignments, homework assignments, and more.
  • 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 Files — Some students may need more intensive supports and individualized instruction because of outside situations that aren’t 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 should this student data 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 correctives truly helped students overcome their learning difficulties [and offer] students a second chance at success”.

What professional development opportunities can nurture a data-driven culture at our school?

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:

  • School Improvement Plans
  • School Leadership
  • Data Collection and Analysis
  • Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)
  • 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.