Effective Strategies for Utilizing Classroom Data to Improve Student Performance

Contribution by Katelin Brown (ECE major, 2017 Miami graduate)
"One of the most challenging things to do as a new teacher is diagnose your students as learners. How do you discover individual reading and writing levels? How do you determine where each child is developmentally with reasoning, or with collaborating? Additionally, how do you pinpoint patterns of strength and weakness within the classroom- and all this with limited resources and often just you as the only adult in the room?" (Rebecca Alber, 2015.)

Background Information: 
It can be an overwhelming task- whether beginning your student teaching experience or beginning your first year as an officially licensed teacher- using all of that data you're given (or finding data, for that matter) to effectively help yourself understand your students better, and thus, giving them the most beneficial educational experience while in your care. Many teachers are given more than enough data appropriate for analyzing to help their students. However, next to none of this data is used, or at least not used effectively. For example, over the summer, many teachers are provided with their upcoming students' most recent state test scores. Most teachers toss this information, or put it to the side. These results have an incredible amount of information that could help teachers set up their classroom dynamics before the first day of the school year has even arrived, and need to be utilized.

What the Research Says:

As an education major, you are familiar with the phrase “data-driven instruction.” It means that you’re constantly

assessing, analyzing, and adjusting how you teach students. Many educators urge their fellow professionals to

move away from the concept of “data-driven,” and instead towards a culture of “data-informed” (Madda, 2016). That

includes Maine educator Julie Willcott, who concedes that some of the most informative data she has used came

not from summative tests or graded assignments, but rather from assessments she used to identify students’

learning preferences at the beginning of a semester. “In my mind, this keeps the learning in the driver’s seat,” she

says. “These results have helped students and I to be aware that we all learn differently and to develop pathways

for the greatest success.” Looking at data should work as a sort of “pulse check” (Madda, 2016). Data should be

something used to inform, rather than drive. Therefore, collecting more data isn’t always the best option. The bulk of

your time should be spent exploring the types of data that work best for you and your students.

See the full article on the importance of being "data-informed" HERE.

Classroom Applications and Examples:

The following are some ways that you can collect data informally, some with the help of your students: 

1. Have your students draw a picture of their family, with labels naming each member. This can give you information regarding the child’s home life and family dynamics.

2. Ask students to write a one-page (or one-paragraph/ one-sentence depending on the age of your students) explanation or narrative of what they might do to solve a realistic problem or situation that students could relate to. Have them do it in one class sitting, and make sure you tell them it's not necessarily for a grade. The results will tell you a lot: their writing skills, understanding of narrative structure, as well as their ability to reason, think logically, their ability to think empathetically (including their level of maturity). The results from this activity can help you as you design problem-based learning and scaffold for specific students.

3. Anticipation guides are quick ways to see before reading or learning what your students already know about a topic. They can also be an attention-grabber for students’ interest regarding a topic. If you were preparing to design a unit on a topic, you could let students delve into it first. While you gather materials and plan for the unit, the results from this anticipation guide would provide you with some useful data: what they already know about a topic, gaps in their understanding of the topic, and any misconceptions or generalizations they may have. Anticipation guides can reveal students' "blind spots" (academic, social, and emotional) and help preempt those teachable moments (Alber, 2015).

4. After collecting a quiz or test, make three stacks. The one on the left represents developing or at the beginning of understanding (low), the pile in the middle represents that students are mostly there, and the pile on the far right represents that students have almost entirely got it. This tells you in that moment, whether or not you can move on or need to reteach. If that pile on the far left is pretty high (most students are not doing well) with just a few in the middle and/or on the far right, you know that you did not effectively teach that material, and that you need to fix the problem immediately.


Importance of collecting data formally, including the use of state tests: 

"The goal is to transform data into information and information into insight." -Carly Fiorina

The enlightening article, “How Teachers Use Student Data to Improve Instruction” (Fuglei, 2014), explains that data from standardized testing gives district leaders, school administrators and teachers a global view of their students. As 2002 Maryland State Teacher of the Year Linda Eberhardt notes in her discussion of student data, this information gives teachers high-level insight into what students know. This allows teachers to understand the major gaps students might have in their learning before they’re in front of the classroom. While administrators use that information to address curricular or teaching insufficiency, teachers can use knowledge gap information to identify subjects where they might need to devote additional teaching time, and to create individual assessments. Analytical assessment software help teachers anticipate student skill gaps, helping them to sort their classes in ways that enhance individualized student learning (Fuglei, 2014).

Grades on individual assignments, essays, and exams provides information about individual function and classroom performance, and can be particularly good for helping teachers to identify learning roadblocks or overall curriculum dysfunction (Fuglei, 2014). For example, if an individual student’s summative assessment is significantly different from previous test data, a teacher may want to look for underlying issues or problems. Sometimes this provides insight into something other than pedagogy: soft skill issues or non-education-related happenings that have a profound influence on student learning. This gives teachers an opportunity to practice empathy and attempt to get students back on track (Fuglei, 2014).

State standardized tests such as MAP, OAT, STAR, etc. also give teachers more than enough data to improve their instruction and give insight to their students' knowledge and knowledge gaps. When given the results of a state test, each question is divided and organized by state standards that you can find online HERE. You can take a deep look into each individual standard, and decide what learning objectives it will take to get your students to meet that ultimate standard as a goal. So, when a student has gaps in his learning, it will show in the questions missed on a state test. With your knowledge now of the objectives it takes to understand that overall standard, you can create a plan to scaffold students and get them where they need it.


Student-led data:

1. Monthly Individualized Reading Goals- Students can conference with their teacher during silent reading or independent time to go over reading strengths and weaknesses. If a student has a personal interest in a particular author, they can complete an author study by conducting research and reading three of that author’s books. If a student is excelling in fiction, but struggles with non-fiction, that month’s reading goal can be to use graphic organizers when reading so much of a percent of non-fiction books all month (this data can be found via reading programs such as S.T.A.R.- the most popular in public schools). If you have a gifted student, their goal can be to complete a non-fiction research project, compare two authors, or read a book at or a little above their level- these students do a good job of structuring a challenging personal goal with minimal help from the teacher. The biggest part of this strategy is to meet with your students individually a couple of times per month to see how much progress they’ve made on their goal. Once they’ve achieved their goal at the end of the month hold a type of celebration or reward as a motivation strategy.

2. Students can record and track their own data and improvements. Whether in math, reading, or writing, students can keep track of their own progress. This is a good strategy to hold students accountable for their own learning- they become more knowledgeable and involved in their own schooling experience. This aligns with the idea of student-led conferences, where teachers are present during parent conferences, but students explain their progress and goals to parents. Students can keep their records organized in binders or notebooks. HERE are some examples and resources for using this data-collection strategy.



Interview Regarding Effective Data Collection:
An Interview with Ross Elementary School teacher, Mrs. M. who is a master at collecting data, analyzing her findings, and using it to help both herself and her students. I worked with Mrs. M for the duration of an entire school year during my student teaching. Morgan Elementary's and Mrs. M's level of dedication to helping their students is highly impressive- and it's mainly thanks to their thorough and knowledgable use of student data.

Question #1


Interviewer: “How can you structure/ use the standards to improve student performance? How can you compare classroom data to the standards to know whether a student has met them (objectives and or standards) or not? Please include examples if possible.”
Mrs. M: “You know my obsession with standards- please refer to all flow chart and spreadsheets we created last year to deconstruct standards and then teach each objective. First, know the standard and all the components via deconstruction. Then, make sure you address and teach then formatively assess each component. At the end, when you feel as if you have taught all components, then a summative assessment can be used to determine if the child truly understands the standard. Compare the summative to the formative assessments from previous lessons to determine any discrepancies. The summative should be used to determine mastery while the formatives along the way can be used to determine basic knowledge and form groups.”

Question #2


Interviewer: “What are some examples of formative data that you use to improve student performance? How do you collect this data, and how does it help you help students?”
Mrs. M: “When giving an assignment, I abide as much as possible by the I, We, You philosophy especially in math. The first part of the lesson is done through modeling, then we complete a few guided activities together. The final few problems  of “You” can then be used to determine student’s independent understanding. This is key because many are able to complete the tasks with the guided practice but struggle with independent work. This information can then be used to form small groups or work with a child individually if they did not understand the concept.”

Question #3


Interviewer: “What are some examples of observational data that you use to improve student performance? How do you collect this data, and how does it help you help students?”
Mrs. M: “Observational data is tricky because there is a difference between engagement vs. actual learning. Many students can appear to be engaged through observation in the whole group setting, but not clear about what they are learning. Therefore, observational data is best done one on one. Also, verbal observation is often observational, but you need to make sure you are not making assumptions of the class based on one student’s verbal answers.”

Question #4


Interviewer: “What kind of data can you use from standardized tests, key milestone exams and project work to improve student performance?”
Mrs. M: “Spring MAP data and AIR data are clear reflections of your past work. This data gives you opportunity to look at groups of students and your ability to differentiate. For example, during the Spring MAP, I was able to narrow down and notice my least amount of growth took place in boys around the 50th percentile.”
 Question #5


Interviewer: “How can you properly use student files by means of data collection and improving student performance? What are the benefits?”
Mrs. M: “Files are a longitudinal look at a child’s growth. These are helpful when looking for trends in data across grade levels. For example, we have a data capture file on each student with every data point starting at kindergarten. We can use this to determine if the child typically comes into the grade level slow, determine “ceilings” of the child’s ability, track if a child is struggling across grade levels or just at this specific moment.”
 Question #6


Interviewer: “Direct instruction: “teaching to the test” thoughts/ opinions- backed by data or examples if possible.”
Mrs. M: “I absolutely hate teaching to the test, however, as a third grade teacher I do not want a child to be retained because I did not teach them the tools and components of the test. Therefore, I make sure students are comfortable with the components of the test. There are little things that can be incorporated into your everyday teaching that will allow a child to be successful without “teaching to the test.” For example, I make sure my students are able to answer a question and give clear evidence where they got their answer from the text. This is key when answering questions on the test. In math, I am very aware of making sure students are able to correct another person’s mistakes because they will be required to do this. There are many aspects of my daily teaching that are included in order for students to be successful without them even realizing I am “teaching to the test.”
 Question #7


Interviewer: “Why is it important to collect and use data to improve student performance?”
Mrs. M: “Data collection doesn’t help you unless you use it to change your instruction, materials, groupings, strategies or differentiation. A student’s missed answer will teach you more about what they know and don’t know rather than a correct answer. Why grade a test if you are not going to reteach the child what they got wrong? Teachers can also use whole group analysis to determine which lesson was successful. If 80% of your students did not get that question correct, did you teach it effectively? Is there a better way to present that information?”

Question #8


Interviewer: “How can you stretch students' thinking/ further their abilities as in individual by using data?”
Mrs. M: “This is a tricky question because most of our assessment don’t show thinking but rather skills. There is a difference between thinking and skills. Wyatt can add, but can he apply that to think through a more complicated problem?”

 Question #9


Interviewer: “Getting help from other teachers/ administrators- how to approach this? Examples of you asking for help/ collecting data from others benefiting your classroom.
My principal is an excellent example of how to analyze data. He is always showing us new ways to look at data and how to use it with instruction. Data is his baby and he has opened my eyes in many ways.”
Mrs. M: “Mrs. S was the first person to show me how to really use STAR data to create individual goals for students. This has transformed my reading instruction because students own their data and know what they need in order to succeed."
 Question #10


Interviewer: “Looking for data in the right places- where are the best places to find data, and where/ when should you use data?”
Mrs. M: “Data can drive you crazy. Figure out what information you already have before creating anything new. Can you use this form of data in two ways? Do you really need to create another formative assessment or can you incorporate that in something else?”
 Question #11


Interviewer: “How do you properly use data from standardized tests to improve your instruction?”
Mrs. M: “AIR test data is a bit too vague because it is only broken down into a few categories. I used my initial AIR data to revise and update some writing components and that drastically changed their scores. I continued with those changes in the subsequent years and it has made all the difference. Last year, I noticed that my students did better on Nonfiction rather than Literature so I have adjusted a few of my fiction lessons and spent more time in this area. Because I am not able to see exact questions, my targeting is a bit vague.”

Question #12
Interviewer: “Anything else you’d like to tell me about collecting data? Your favorite thing about collecting data for student growth? Thoughts about it? Best methods described with example(s) of results?”

Mrs. M: “I love our pre and post writing and math assessments. Students can clearly see how they grew throughout

the unit or quarter. I am using the math a lot more this year to allow kids to pick their  activities for math choice




Alber, R. (2015, March 31). New Teachers: How to Use Classroom Data to
B., Means, E., Chen, A., DeBarger, & C., Padilla. (2011). Teachers' Ability to Use
Data to Inform Instruction: Challenges and Supports. Retrieved Oct. & Nov., 2017, from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/opepd/index.html.
Data and its Importance. (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2017, from
Fuglei, M. (2014). How Teachers Use Student Data to Improve Instruction.
Madda, M. J. (2016, October 26). Not Just Numbers: How Educators Are Using
Data in the Classroom - EdSurge News. Retrieved October 11, 2017, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-10-25-not-just-numbers-how-educators-are-using-data-in-the-classroom
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