What do I do with this data?

by Tricia Ebner

Within the past couple of weeks, the emails started arriving. Our administration was pablo (11)sending out the individual student results for last spring’s Ohio AIR assessments. Naturally I was curious as to how my students performed last spring, so I began looking at those results. Then I received a couple of files for the incoming students. As I looked over columns of numbers, the question raised itself in my head: what do I do with all this data?

I don’t want to sound like consider the data isn’t important; I know that it is. But as I am preparing myself, both mentally and practically, for the coming school year, part of me wants to set the data to the side and look at it “later.” After all, I need to ready the classroom, plan those initial lessons to be very engaging, make sure I have a good handle on how the new computers work, and all those other intricacies and details of the opening day. Let’s face it: it takes time to sort through the information and make some notes about students’ performances on the assessments and what that might mean for the year ahead.

Let’s be honest: it’s time worth taking. There are some really good reasons to study and reflect on this data before the year begins. Rebecca Alber speaks about the value and use of state assessment data in her third point in this blog post from 2011.

When I take a step-by-step approach to this process, it’s easier to manage.

Step 1: Set aside the time for looking at the data. I actually make an appointment with myself to look over the data. Doing this reserves the space and prevents other activities from creeping in on that time I’ve set aside.

Step 2: Look over the data as a whole. I don’t initially focus on my students, whether past or incoming. Instead, I look at the overall picture of the grade level for my district. What was the highest score? What was the lowest? How many in total do we seem to have at each quintile? I’m not observe names or even recording exact numbers of students in each quintile. This gives me a “lay of the land” for how we performed overall, as a building.

Step 3: Look at the results of my particular students from the past year. I look to see who performed exactly as I expected. Who surprised me with a stronger-than-expected performance? Who surprised me with a weaker-than-expected performance? What do I now need to consider about my instruction for the year ahead, and how I might improve my practice?

Step 4: Look at the results of my incoming students. If I can, I’ll print out this information and keep it handy in a binder that I use for data. I know I’ll be referring to it throughout the year, so I may as well keep it handy. I make note of students who performed exceptionally well or rather poorly. I don’t yet make any firm decisions based on this data. It’s only one data point. If time permits, I’ll talk with teachers from the previous year to see what surprised them about student performance and what suggestions they might have for me.  

When students walk through my classroom door on the first day, I begin making my observations about their language arts skills. When I give our district assessment in late August or early September, I consider how whether each student’s performance matches what they did on last spring’s statewide assessment. Once I have more information about each student, I begin crafting lessons which target various needs within my classroom, using differentiation strategies such as tiered lessons to help me better address the range of strengths and needs within my students. I’m able to do this more efficiently because I’ve been gathering data since it became available, rather than waiting until I have a range of information in front of me.

This approach has worked for me in the past, and I anticipate it will continue working for me as this year begins. By collecting the information as it becomes available, I begin piecing together the puzzle of each student, so that hopefully I’ll have a clearer picture of each student’s needs within the first few weeks of the school year. Then we can maximize our learning and growth throughout the year. A few minutes with data now pays off in large dividends later. It’s time worth investing.