How Teachers Utilize Student Data to Increase Performance

Micah Bachemin
Micah Bachemin
Elementary School Principal; M.Ed. in Education Administration
Adult writing on a stack of papers next to an open laptop.

If you ask any teacher about their students’ data, they will most likely reference the latest assessment scores or reading levels. However, there are many pieces of data teachers and administrators should analyze to fully understand the strengths and needs of both the school’s instructional program and individual students to ensure students are achieving at high levels.

The Importance of Data Analytics in Education

Let’s face it – not everyone is excited by data disaggregation, and some teachers have a difficult time choosing the most relevant data to analyze. Some educators have a difficult time seeing past the very surface information data provides. But, if the true goal of education is to prepare every child to be successful in the present and in the future, then administrators and teachers must work together to peel back the many layers of data to drill down to the root causes of students’ successes and struggles.

Identifying these root causes gives educators the information needed to develop targeted intervention plans for students while also showing them the areas where students are ready for enrichment. Digging into data and examining trends in student performance gives administrators this same type of information about teachers. Through student performance data, administrators are able to identify gaps in teacher instructional practices and provide individualized support while simultaneously finding content knowledge experts.

What Types of Data are Available to Teachers?

Assessment data is important but is only one piece necessary for effective data-driven decision making in education. It provides a snapshot of a student’s ability at that moment and does not provide an all-around picture of a child. To get the best understanding of how to support student growth, educators must review and analyze a variety of meaningful data.

Student interest surveys can be completed early in the school year to give new teachers an idea of who their children are before getting too far into the curriculum. Teachers should take care not to etch students’ interests in stone, though, because we know what interests them today may be old news tomorrow! However, the information gained from the surveys are valuable nuggets that can be used to begin building relationships and when planning engaging lessons.

Attendance data, although often more of a focus for administration, can also give teachers information about a student. Student absences occur for many reasons, and it’s not always the reason for the absences that’s important. The specific content and how much of it students miss when they are absent can help explain why students are having difficulty mastering skills. Keeping up with the days students are absent can help teachers plan individual teaching opportunities or assign students to the appropriate small groups.

Discipline data, like attendance data, provides a much different view of a student. Paying attention to when and how often a student is out of the classroom for discipline reasons allows teachers to properly prepare instruction for the student’s return. In addition, keeping track of the day of the week and time of day a student tends to misbehave (i.e., more often in the morning or always during math) helps teachers and administrator identify patterns and devise an intervention plan to address the antecedents that lead to the behaviors.

Formative assessments allow teachers to collect data about student learning and make decisions about instruction. The goal of formative assessment is to provide the teacher with ongoing information about student comprehension of the content being taught before they have finished covering the content. This allows them to monitor learning needs and progress. These types of data give teachers instant knowledge of what a student knows and doesn’t know, and provides the opportunity to make immediate corrections to a student’s understanding.

Formative assessments can be formal like completed concept maps and quizzes, or informal like classroom discussions and student conferences. Some of the best formative assessment data can be collected by checking for understanding through purposeful questioning, which can be used to create effective data-driven instruction.

Summative assessments take place after content has been taught and give data on student mastery of content. State assessments, unit tests, and final projects are examples of summative assessments. While important, summative assessment results are often received too late to inform instruction, and, in isolation, do not provide much valuable information about a student. Without a pre-formulated plan for re-teaching content based on formative assessment data, the data yielded from summative assessments is less valuable than other data.

Additionally, summative data is often looked at through a pass/fail lens which is a huge disservice to students, as both performance and progress are vital components of conversations surrounding student achievement.

Data-Driven Decision Making in the Classroom

Once lessons have been written and instruction is taking place, it can be difficult for teachers to monitor student reactions to the instruction and adjust based on that data. However, in order to provide the most significant differentiated instruction and improve student outcomes, teachers must collect and then take action on the data students provide. But how are teachers supposed to teach, monitor, and adjust when standing in a classroom with 30 students who have such varying needs and abilities?

Constant conversations between peers and between students and teachers about what they are learning gives teachers the chance to address misconceptions and misunderstandings before they are cemented through repeated incorrect practice. Give students the opportunity to turn and talk often during the guided portion of lessons and correct misinformation fluently. Confer with students during independent practice to get a more in-depth understanding of what they know in order to fill holes in their learning. Listen to the errors being made and decide whether the frequency of the errors requires them to be addressed individually, during small group instruction, or with the whole class.

Intentional monitoring of student behavior and performance during instruction and independent practice lets teachers know which students need more of their time and which are okay to move on with less teacher involvement. Watch body language during direct instruction and then follow up with students who seemed uncomfortable or uninterested. When students are working independently, take anecdotal notes on the quality of their work to provide immediate intervention and to plan for future instruction.

Interventions can be provided during small group instruction or guided group instruction. It is important to note that these two instructional arrangements are not the same but are both based on data about the needs of individual students (small group instruction tends to be standards-based while guided group instruction is skill-based).

Collecting and analyzing relevant data about students and their learning needs, and promptly using that data to plan instruction and interventions is necessary for students to experience success. Educators talking about data and personalizing learning paths for students will lead to improved outcomes for all.

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