Data: Ugh or A-ha?

Tracy Yarchi, English Teacher, grade 12

Data. Ugh. This might be an initial reaction to looking at test results.  For me it’s a mixed response.  On one hand I’m excited to see how well my students performed, and on the other, I dread considering what it means if the results are mediocre at best.  Though I didn’t participate in last years PARCC ELA assessments since I teach 12th grade, I still gather and interpret data from my senior AP English test results and of course my embedded formative and summative tests. The reality is that data tells us how our individual students are learning, and how well we are doing.  Data consideration doesn’t have to be a grim experience, though.

To make data interpretation more meaningful than dreadful consider the following tips:

  1. Take responsibility for the results.  If you take ownership of the results whether you are reading last year’s spring assessment data or a current formative assessment findings, be accountable.
  2. Interpret data with at least one other colleague.  This could be a teacher who teaches  your same content and grade level, or you could meet with a vertical team in your  content area from 2-3 grade levels.
  3. Brainstorm some questions ahead of time to determine what you are looking for or allow the data to spark questions for discussion.  No matter what, studying data should raise questions related to the findings.  Allow the questions to lead into discussion.
  4. Steer the conversation toward what you can do to change your instruction and approach. Sometimes we want to place blame on outside forces, but there is nothing we can do about difficult home situations, politics and culture.
  5. Track questions and topics for future meetings, study and reflection reference. Keep minutes of the discussion and questions in a google doc. or somewhere for everyone to access and for the next steps.
  6. Determine the relationship between skills assessed and standards taught. Maybe look closer at the standard to be certain we understand them before reapproaching.
  7. Focus on one specific problem area at a time. Maybe students should practice reading and writing in response to the text.  I felt like I discovered a diamond mine when I realized my seniors needed practice with understanding writing prompt complexity. They were strong readers and writers, but tripped over the prompts until we practiced dismantling them.

Remember our teaching strategies are what need to also change, not just student test results.  So many times we want to share and talk about successful projects, but rarely are we sharing discussion protocols, tips for writing instruction or close reading activities.  So, ultimately consider best practice sharing and researching for effectively addressing problem areas.