Every day, corporations around the globe use various data to better inform their business decisions. Educators and administrators who adopt these same data analysis methodologies can benefit by making more evidence-based instructional decisions. Further, assessment of data can help teachers more easily discover the gaps in student learning. Data can provide a snapshot of what students should know, what they do know, and what can be done to meet their needs.
Consider all of the data teachers have access to that they might not be using to their (and their students’) advantage:
- Demographic Data – student population, participation, attendance
- Learning Data – responses to standardized tests, responses to homework and in-class tests, writing samples, project outcomes
- Behavioral – disciplinary referrals, suspensions, alternative education programs
Research has shown that using data to make instructional decisions can lead to improved student performance. However, no single piece of data, such as standardized test scores, can tell educators all they need to know about students, enabling them to make well-informed instructional decisions, so researchers stress the importance of using multiple data sources.
Don’t be afraid of the data
“Teachers Know Best,” a 2015 study published by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, found that educators vastly differ in their approaches to and comfort levels with using data and the technology that supports them. They defined six specific types of teachers as related to use of data:
- Data Mavens focus on individualizing learning plans to address the whole student.
- Growth Seekers use data to differentiate instruction in the classroom and adapt how they teach.
- Aspirational Users believe in using data but often find it overwhelming.
- Scorekeepers rely on assessment data to help prepare students for state tests and other high-stakes assessments.
- Perceptives rely on their own observations of how students are doing to guide instruction.
- Traditionalists focus primarily on grades as a barometer of student progress and an indicator of where to focus their teaching.
Nearly half of the 4,600 teachers surveyed (48 percent) fall into the first two groups and are early adopters of data-driven instruction. However, an equally large percentage of those surveyed say they are uncomfortable using digital tools to meet student learning objectives.
The vast majority of teachers are, of course, passionate about engaging students. Each student has different strengths and weaknesses, which translate into the myriad of ways that they learn. Educators can utilize progress monitoring to modify instruction based on each student’s strengths and weaknesses.
Administrators recognize that any successful data-driven instruction depends on the availability of high-quality, efficient tools. Administrators can help educators by structuring learning environments to ensure that teachers have access to data every day to be able to make more informed decisions about their students.
Data: It’s not just an annual thing
Using data with students involves more than simply discussing their test scores a couple of times per year. Data collection is most effective as an ongoing part of a classroom culture, in which students and teachers are always collecting and analyzing information in order to improve. Data should be used to identify individual patterns in writing and math assignments, homework habits, and reading levels. These results should then be shared and analyzed with students to help each student set and achieve learning goals.