Doing Data Mindfully

Many educators, particularly school leaders love to use data to inform teacher instruction. The data movement is a popular one; particularly in the age of school reform. Decisions about curriculum, instruction, and assessment tend to be shaped and determined by data. Well, what is the data? Generally, the data consist of student test scores from standardized tests or in-house assessments meant to track student progress. My questions have always been, (1) does the data tell us anything that we don't already know, and (2) is the test score data something we should use to see if students are learning? Data from standardized test scores do not necessarily show whether or not a student is successful academically. All it shows is how well a student takes the test on a particular day. A high score does not equate knowledge or understanding.

I've had my share of debates with school leaders when I was a teacher about the purposefulness and usefulness of data gathering and usage. These conversations and debates only fueled my passions against using data; data doesn't tell the whole story, it only tells a piece of it. However, I do understand where data can be helpful with respect to educating students. In order for data to be helpful with thoughtful and mindful student instruction, the foundation of the data has to be rooted in what students are learning on a regular basis. Data shouldn't come from assessments that test students on aptitude or on an assumption of common knowledge. Data should really seek to answer whether or not students understand what they're learning in the classroom daily. Cumulative data gathering is important – those can be done as midterm and final assessments. However, the data you can get from your kids in the classroom on a day to day basis is what is most important; in my humble opinion.

As a teacher, I did data differently. Thankfully, I was able to keep the data hounds off my back because the ways I use data had an impact on my daily teaching. If you're looking for new ways to use data in a mindful and intentional way to help you improve your classroom instruction and help improve academic performance, here are some brief suggestions that can help you:


  1. Exit Ticket Data – At the end of each class, give your students exit ticket questions. I gave students three exit ticket questions. I gave three questions because I had three objectives for the day's lesson. For example, if I saw that 75% of my students answer ed question one correctly but only 48% of my students answered question two correct, I knew that I had to review the contents of that second question with my class; more than half of the class got it wrong. This is a great way to gauge whether or not you were students got the lesson that you gave on any given day. This is real-time feedback on your instruction. Use this to help inform how you go about instructing students daily. Keep a daily log and be sure to show to your administrator.
  2. Socratic method / Blooms Taxonomy Data – Using the Socratic method in a class, a tactic I learned from my brief stint in law school, is a great way to get students engaged and focused; it is also a great way to review for any test and to assess for student understanding. Using the rubric from Bloom's Taxonomy, you can ask any student one of six questions to see the levels of understanding they have on any given topic or concept as it relates to one lesson or one theme in your course. This gives you a more individualized picture of how your students are doing with respect to your class.
  3. Pre and Post Data (Test) – This is a tried and true method for showing growth. You give a pre-test to see where students are; you give a post-test (or test) after teaching them the material to see what they've learned and/or retained. In between the pre-test and post-test period are your lessons, but you also give exit ticket questions and Socratic questions in order to track how your students are doing as a group and individually. Employing the pre-test and post-test gives you a clearer picture of whether or not a student has grown, gotten worse or experienced no change.
  4. Quiz Data – Using quiz data is a mix of the exit ticket tactic and the Socratic tactic in that you can gather data on your students as a group and as individuals. Exit ticket questions pinpoint students getting the objectives of a lesson, however quiz questions pinpoint more detailed information as to what your students learned. You can show your students this data to present their standing as a group.  You can also use quiz data to compare with your exit ticket data to get data make predictions on future performance based on your teaching methods.
  5. Rubric Data – Using a rubric on a class assignment, project or test is always good because it gives students an understanding as to what is expected of them to achieve a particular grade. It also gives you an opportunity to assess what students can do and what they don't do well. A rubric allows you to set the standard of student performance. There's a minimum standard that your students can meet of satisfactory performance and then there is also a standard that exceeds satisfactory performance. A rubric gives you an opportunity to find if students are performing below, above or at their average.

There are many different ways to gather data on your students. Just because one way of gathering data sounds good, it doesn't mean that it'll work for you. You have to find the right data gathering method that puts you in the best position to put your students in an even better position to perform well academically. You can throw in different variables that can help explain your student data. For example, you can account for what time of day you see your students or if your students see you after lunch. Data gathering isn't all bad. It can actually be fun and fruitful if you do it in a very meaningful and intentional way. Don't allow your school leaders to dictate to you how to do data. Rather, partner with them to find the best way to do data so that your students get the best from you.

Let's continue to press towards the mark!


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