It’s easy for educators to feel like they’re drowning in data. Test scores upon test scores, sorted in every possible way: by grade level, by race, by GPA. This data, while potentially overwhelming, can also be an educator’s greatest asset in the battle to improve student achievement.
The first step toward analyzing data for achievement gains is ensuring that educators have easy access to the information and have the skills needed to interpret test results and identify solutions. The authors of the Rand Corporation’s paper, titled Making Sense of Data-Driven Decision Making in Education, offer the following tips:
- Provide training focused on how to use the data and how to act on the knowledge gained from it.
- Allocate adequate time for educators to study the data, collaborate. and collectively develop next steps.
- Partner with local organizations whose mission is to support data use, providing access to information and a means of interpreting information in a way that is sensitive to local needs.
- Assign individuals to filter the information by establishing data teams, made up of stakeholders such as teachers, curriculum specialists, community members and parents.
- Utilize user-friendly technology and data systems, like SunGard K-12 Education’s PLUS 360.
Once the data has been properly collected, sorted, and analyzed, it’s time to identify the problem areas and modify curriculum and instruction. According to the Rand paper, educators in districts across Southwestern Pennsylvania use data to make adjustments in three ways: tailoring classroom instruction for all students based on aggregate results, sorting students into small groups to provide differentiated instruction, and personalizing instruction for individual student needs.
Modifying curriculum could be as easy as adjusting a lesson plan or it could require that administrators refocus professional development in areas where teachers need to strengthen their content knowledge or teaching skills.
With problem areas identified and instruction adjusted, it’s important to set short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals for achievement improvements. A report published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics suggests articulating a specific problem that needs to be corrected, designing two or three strategies to address it, and establishing measurable indicators to track progress:
- Short-term goals: Set goals for student performance on curriculum-embedded assessments and in-classroom activities.
- Medium-term goals: Examine interim assessments for progress on the related areas or, if necessary, create new interim assessments.
- Long-term goals: Set a goal for students to answer a certain percentage of the area problems correctly on the next external test.
Finally, educators should review the results of their instructional changes to determine whether they’re successful or whether further analysis and adjustments are needed.