Student Data and Balance

Data and Balance
Data and Balance

Teachers in K-12 often use student data on a regular basis.  Student achievement data can be used to qualify students for reading, gifted, remedial, enrichment, acceleration, differentiation, and a variety of other services.  Recently, standardized testing data has been the forefront of educational trends and in the news.  Implementing a  balanced approach when looking at student data can keep stakeholders (educators and administrators) grounded in an understanding that the numbers behind the tests may give light to areas of strengths/needs.

Data isn’t evil

Assessing a student’s understanding of a specific concept isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, over the past few years I’ve grown to appreciate and utilize student achievement data more and more.  Whether the data is from a standardized test or not, the data can be helpful if used correctly. Moving data beyond just a number can benefit teachers and students.  Data can help teachers ask better questions and provide opportunities to reflect on how students learn best. Involving students in analyzing their own data can encourage student goal setting and ownership.

Having conversations with students about their data is powerful.

Have the conversation


I’m definitely not an advocate for having additional standardized tests, although some seem more useful than others.  I find that assessments that give detailed feedback (e.g. areas that need strengthening, %ile compared to the norm, strength areas, next instructional steps, etc.) are more frequently used by teachers, compared to assessments the give little feedback.  Obviously, there isn’t a perfect test available for school purchase.  The assessments that a school uses should give detailed feedback that can be immediately used.

Do you hear a lot of negative talk in regard to standardized assessments?  Having a conversation about an assessment’s effectiveness in informing instruction may be needed. Instead of trash talking the assessments in general, educators and administrators should find assessments that work for them.  PLC teams should emphasize the importance of using formative assessments regularly.  I’ve found that teacher created formative assessments are some of the best ways to find areas that need strengthening and to identify differentiation opportunities.  The purpose of giving the assessments should be communicated to all stakeholders.  When teachers understand why the tests are given, (not just for VAM reasons), they may start to value the benefits of assessing students using a variety of tools (such as Common Core performance assessments).

Balance is needed

With teaching and in life, balance is needed.  Teaching is a profession that can be stressfull.  It has many teachers thinking right now, how many days till Spring Break??   Balancing assessments with instruction takes skill and patience.  Standardized tests are often at the forefront of school administrator’s minds.  One test shouldn’t be used to determine if success, or enough growth has been made to call that school year/class/school successful. Take a breath and look at assessments from a macro lens. A combination of formative, informal, formal, review checkpoints, activators, performance  (insert your assessment here), and even standardized assessments have their place in a school and can be beneficial to a certain extent.  The value of the data often depends on how it’s utilized.

Picture Credit: DigitalArt

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” Isaac Asimov

Overemphasizing Standardized Test Data and Possible Solutions

Standardized Tests and Formative Assessments
Assessment Data

Assessment Data …. If you’re within listening distance of a classroom you’ve probably heard the words.  The words can hold positive as well as negative connotations. Two different types of data are often used in the classroom – summative and formative.  I think this picture helps show the difference between the two.  If used appropriately, formative assessment data (exit card, common assessment, observation, journal, data binder, etc.) can be used to improve student learning.  Many teachers that I’ve met through Twitter utilize formative or local assessments to maximize student learning. I believe that it’s possible to use student achievement data to identify specific strengths/concerns as well as assist teachers in developing interventions (remediation/enrichment) for students.

At times the word is also associated with standardized test scores and accountability. Those words combined might make a few teachers cringe and organizers protest. A school district’s standardized test scores may make news headlines and influence school improvement plans.  The emphasis on standardized testing has caused teachers to allocate more time for test prep.  Some districts begin the test prep process in January, or before, when the test actually occurs in March. That test prep time takes away time from many non-test related subject areas.

I’ve been told that the Common Core will change the standardized testing landscape. I can’t predict the future, but I believe standardized test scores will continue to dominate local and national headlines. It’s been well documented that there’s an overemphasis on standardized test scores in public schools in America.  The emphasis on test scores impacts teacher instruction and will soon influence teacher evaluations.  Is this a good thing?

I’m not advocating for or against standardized assessments, but I believe formative assessments should drive academic differentiation decisions in the classroom. Even though the overemphasis on standardized test scores seems to be the norm, I’m optimistic. Why?  Many influential education leaders are starting to notice the impact of standardized testing on students, teachers, communities, and administrators.  The leaders below are speaking out on the impacts of standardized testing.  Feel free to follow the courageous people below.

  • Joshua Star @mcpssuper is the superintendent of MCPS, a large, diverse, and high performing district in Maryland. He has concerns over the validity of standardized tests and has asked for a moratorium on standardized testing.
  • Diane Ravitch @dianeravitch, is Research Professor of Education at New York University, wrote a blog post about the inequalities of standardized testing here.
  • Larry Ferlazzo @larryferlazzo, an ESL teacher in California, wrote a blog post comparing the difference between being data-informed and data-driven.

Student Data – Beyond the Scores

Image by:  Adamr

At times, I think that the term “data” produces negative feelings from some educators.  Why?  Well … sometimes  the term is negatively associated with teacher accountability.  It’s also one of those buzz words that seems overused at times.   As an educator, information/data can be an important tool in my tool belt as I utilize it to inform and individualize instruction.  I’m surprised to find that the general public seems to view student data as just scores from standardized tests.  I don’t think that data can be limited to standardized assessment results.

Below,  I’m going to create a data collection list for educators.  I’m not going to include yearly state assessment data, such as MSA in my list.  I’ve found that standardized tests that are given once a year give little to no direction in informing instruction.  I remember a colleague once categorizing state assessments as autopsy reports.   They may be helpful in analyzing school data for school improvement goals, but for the individual teacher, they seem less than stellar.

Data Collection Tools –>

Survey Results – Collecting survey data can be one way to get to know your students on a personal level.  Developing rapport with students is key in helping them reach their potential.

Technology – Students can use iPads or computer activities to work on skills that need strengthening.  In the past I’ve used SplashMath to individualize instruction for specific students. For example, a student might receive only problems associated with place value for a certain time period.  I will get a report on a weekly basis on which problems were missed or correct.  This data can be emailed and utilized to inform further instruction. This feedback can immediately be put to good use.

Guided Groups – Guided math/reading groups can be a great way to collect data on individual students.  I’ve seen teachers travel around the room with a clipboard and collect student data in that manner.

Projects – Student projects can be utilized to collect student data.  Student work samples can also be used to develop a portfolio for each student.  Using a camera, educators can also take digital pictures to review and use during parent teacher conferences.

Journaling – Students write in journals about their skills and overall performance in the classroom.  I believe journals can be used in all classes.  I’ve had success utilizing journals in math classes.  When appropriate questions are asked, teachers can glean data regarding feelings about particular concepts that need revisiting.

Collaborative Work – Students often show dynamic strengths when working with a partner or group.  This type of information can be documented by the educator.  A self-reflection piece may also be helpful.

Unit Assessments – Unit assessments are not only meant to be graded and recorded.  Unit assessments can also be analyzed by students.  Students can check what questions were missed and set goals for their learning.

Exit Cards – Exit cards are generally given at the end of a lesson.  These cards are quick and informative.  Teachers can collect the exit cards and even have the students analyze the results.  Students can determine strengths/concerns and document them in a journal.

Student Data Binders – Students can place homework, tests, and projects in an individual data binder.  This binder should be a transparent way for teachers, parents, and students to review data to view strengths/concerns.

Standardized Assessment Data – The type of data that I’m talking about for this category relates to assessments that are given more than once per year.  An example could be the NWEA MAP assessment.  This assessment data can be used to find strengths/concerns and individualize instruction for students.

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