In schools, especially, we are surrounded by so much data—some volatile, some stable—that can be deconstructed and analyzed for different purposes. However, it is absolutely essential that we keep the focus of student achievement in mind as we use the data to create actionable items for improvement. According to John Hattie (2008), we can argue the case that in education, we must focus on what instructional practices work best as we focus on student achievement. Not only is it essential to focus on student achievement when analyzing data, the whole purpose of formative assessment is to monitor and adjust our own practices and teaching strategies so that students are engaged in genuine learning that aligns to our backwards-mapped plan. What is the point of analyzing any sort of data in an educational setting if student achievement isn’t the pinnacle of the master plan?
I will argue that it is impossible to maximize student learning without analyzing data. This data can be informal or formal, but we must formatively assess where are students are in their learning process in order to know where they need to go next. As educators, when we effectively monitor and adjust student learning through scaffolded active participation strategies, collaborative discussions, and other interim assessments, we are able to get very prompt results (if not immediate) that allow us to continue with our instructional plan, or make adjustments, as needed.
Data allows teachers to analyze the effectiveness of their own instructional practices, as it serves the purpose of highlighting student acquisition of skills. Teachers can construe data to mean that they might need to engage students better, as learning wasn’t maximized, or that the assessment structure wasn’t aligned to the instruction. Whichever the case, data must be constantly analyzed in order to improve student learning. Whether teachers document daily formative assessment feedback in lessons or activities, or they are analyzing formal pre- and interim assessments, collaboration needs to include all stakeholders (students, parents, colleagues). I believe transparency allows students to develop buy-in to learning, as they see that teachers are using a variety of data sources to measure learning, and not just occasionally.
As Dr. Ward et al. (2013) mention, focusing on instructional improvement—with student learning as the keystone of the structure—requires surveying hard and soft data, analyzing that data to discover patterns of strength and need, and devising actionable goals to improve areas of concern (p. 3). In my own classroom, I am constantly monitoring and adjusting to student needs, building in scaffolding and front-loading all activities with activities that access prior knowledge and build vocabulary. Before I even allow students to interact with complex problems or text, I have to analyze where they are in their learning, what stories they can contribute to the lesson activities, and ensure all students fully understand the essential question and learning target aligned to the content standards. Often times I am amazed that my assumptions of what students know versus what they actually know and understand are far off. I’m also amazed at how much learning takes place that wasn’t anticipated by my learning targets. I couldn’t imagine being a teacher who doesn’t take the time to assess student learning frequently. Isn’t it more time-consuming to wait to see how students perform on a summative exam and then re-teach than it is to adjust along the way?
As aforementioned, my colleagues are excited to have created an action plan for improving instructional practices that engage students in metacognitive learning. This wouldn’t have been possible without the analysis of data. As Dylan Wiliam (2012) states, every teacher needs to figure out ways to embed minute-by-minute assessments into his or her daily instruction in order to focus on getting better at teaching and making a greater impact on the learning of their students. The fact that my colleagues and I are focused and determined to improve means student learning improves, as well. I am eager to see how this school year unfolds!
Ward, C., Fisher, D., Nancy, F., & Lapp, D. (2013). Using Data to Focus Instructional Improvement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
John Hattie: Seeing Through the Eyes of Students (2008 April 28). Retrieved August 30, 2015.
Embedded Formative Assessment—Dylan Wiliam (2012 January 25). Retrieved August 30, 2015.