Depending on Data to Drive Instruction

These days, teachers have access to a plethora of data about students. From the beginning, students complete course benchmarks and state-mandated high-stakes tests, leaving data to be mined not only for verification of student performance, but teacher performance, as well. Schools rely on data to reach their own improvement plan goals. For a school to improve, data must drive instruction. While the sheer mass of available data makes this seem like a Herculean task, it does not have to be difficult. Careful analysis is the first step in making data work for you. Combine that with discussion among colleagues, and you will be ready to tweak your lesson plans so that students can make gains.

Start analyzing your data by examining how the whole class performed. Set your radar on red-flag items. If the data indicates that a large proportion of your students failed to meet a given standard or skillset, then that area needs to be called into question. For any of the deficiencies high on your priority list, you need to determine when the skill should have been taught, how it was taught, and how it was previously assessed. (It is possible for students to have been taught the skill during an earlier grade. This is one reason why communication among teachers throughout the district is imperative.) When you see that most students failed to master a concept, you will want to examine the methods used for instruction in this area. Do not waste any efforts attempting a failed method a second time. Learning why students missed the mark is useful in that it helps teachers create better plans for instruction and assessment. Likewise, the deficiencies serve as a reminder to reinforce the concepts students will encounter again. This may translate to making instructional changes in your own classroom, or it could mean that your district needs to update the curriculum map.

Intervention plans may need to be devised for individual students if their data indicates concern. When analyzing the results of an individual, you will want to pay close attention to the assessed areas in which the student fell short. Large gains are made in small increments so only pick a few areas from all the deficiencies to address. One or two workable goals may be all you need for a student to show growth. To meet the needs of the target individual, you will want to use a selection of customized materials along with adapted instruction and possibly adapted assessments too. Just as you did when analyzing the data from your whole class, you will not want to hesitate in seeking out your colleagues' advice for helping a single student achieve. If possible, arrange to meet with the student's previous teachers. They may be able to provide you with insight to what could help the individual succeed.

As you analyze your class's data, you are likely to have a concern about its timing. Control over when you see the results from assessments is rare, as is often the case with high-stakes state testing. Not receiving data until the end of the school year can make one feel powerless in executing effective changes before time with a class runs out. The data, however, is not any less useful. Future classes will likely encounter the same assessments, so adjustments can be made with them in mind. Plus, if it is shared with the students' subsequent teachers, those teachers can use it to make their own changes.

Additionally, school districts need to have clear plans for how students are taught during the course of their educational careers, and data can help with that. When educators are given the opportunity to collaborate on these matters, master teachers can share their methods for enhancing inadequate student performance in selected skillsets. Collaborative endeavors can include teachers from multiple grade levels for extra insight. During this time, teachers can share portfolios of student work that demonstrates an ability to perform well in a target area. Exposure to these ideas can enrich instruction and allow teachers to create a plan for showing growth over time. Being aware of others' successes can help individual teachers set and meet goals for class learning objectives. Likewise, teachers can work together to develop educational plans for individuals who need special interventions because of disability or other critical concerns.

Schools work hard to create a safe, productive environment. It's a tricky business to work under tight time and budget constraints all while unforeseen life events influence students. Although the data often accurately measures student achievement, the results don't always reveal the whole picture. Students have bad days that may cause them to perform poorly. Before targeting standards or individuals, be sure of the data's validity by gaging their aptitude with an additional assessment. If the results merit instructional change, then compare this assessment with a post-assessment following the corresponding lessons. Your process and plan for using data is one small step in improving your school and our youth.