What is Your Assessment Data Telling You?

Friday, November 4, 2016
teachers reviewing assessment data

Teachers' ability to support student needs is greatly impacted by how well they are able to help make connections between the student performance data, appropriate instructional resources, and next steps in the instructional process. Efficient instructional programs make automatic recommendations as to the proper resources based on student data to provide significant time savings and guidance to teachers. By having resource recommendations based on the data, the teachers can observe data patterns and adjust their instruction.  

What does this data look like?

Data needs to be presented in a simple format regardless of whether instructional decisions are determined by the teachers’ data teams, or whether they are guided by recommendations within their instructional or assessment technologies. Norm-referenced and criterion-based data should clearly define the groups of students who need more intensive instruction and the groups of students who are at or above level. Analysis should group students by skill areas, and should identify high-priority students based on their progress towards year-end benchmarks. When data is compiled and condensed in this fashion, teachers can more effectively plan at a class level and manage instructional time for whole-class and small group instruction, while administrators can better assign resources across grade levels.


How does this look in action?

Through use of a universal screening assessment, teachers may already have students whose progress is being closely monitored in their classrooms. Using curriculum-based formative assessment, teachers can administer a type of pre-test by asking questions or having students complete grade-level activities. Based on students’ responses, teachers can identify students who already understand a particular concept before the lesson is taught to the entire class. This process can be facilitated by a technology-based curriculum tool. Advanced students can be given independent activities to allow them to continue to expand their knowledge, while struggling students can be given additional support in advance of the whole-group lesson. 

The teacher might provide whole-group instruction on a particular concept and then give students the opportunity to practice that particular skill or idea through peer discussions, independent center activities, or homework assignments. Graded homework assignments and subsequent curriculum-based tests (such as an end-of-unit quiz) help the teacher understand which students may be struggling and require further instruction.

Data from progress monitoring tools can be used to help teachers determine which struggling students to prioritize. Those who are behind grade level and whose progress puts them on a trajectory to not achieve end-of-year, grade-level expectations should be a priority for the teacher. 

Using data in this fashion, the teacher can identify students who are struggling, pinpoint the skills at which they are struggling, and then prioritize instruction based on their trajectory toward end-of-year benchmarks. This planning of instruction helps the teacher take a targeted and time-efficient approach, prioritizing students in the most urgent need of help.

Have you incorporated the right instructional materials for each student’s individual needs?

Once the teacher has used assessment data to identify the various levels of instructional intensity needed, the final step is delivering small-group or individual instruction to students who are struggling.

In every school, there are skilled teachers who have the hands-on experience necessary to support a wide variety of student profiles. For these educators, the question of how to identify the right materials for the task may not be a concern. However, for a great number of teachers, determining how to support specific student needs may be overwhelming. Therefore, the degree to which principals and administrators can provide a framework of strategies and resources will help set up teachers for success.

Principals and administrators should emphasize use of resources that are research-based or, better yet, research-proven. This step in the process—intervening with teacher-led, direct instruction—may be the most critical in terms of teacher effectiveness. Fortunately, many comprehensive instructional programs offer materials for Tier II and Tier III instruction, which are aligned with the pacing and scope of the core instruction. If these materials are not part of your instructional program, investing in a research-based supplemental program or dedicating time and resources to developing methods that are based on scientific research are worth considering.

The instructional materials should follow a structured routine, such as the Gradual Release of Responsibility model. A structured approach allows for students to understand the routine of the lesson so that they can focus on the lesson material itself, rather than constantly adapting to an ever-changing instructional process. A structured approach benefits teachers as well, giving them the opportunity to focus on the language and pacing of the lesson, rather than the instructional framework through which the lesson is to be delivered.

The instructional approach should also include adaptations or alternative lessons for students who do not understand a concept the first time. This provides a true way to reteach the lesson from a different approach, rather than just repeating the same lesson over and over. Alternative lesson strategies also provide a way to check whether students have been able to generalize the lesson material by articulating the lesson differently and applying skills in a different context. 

Instructional materials for intervention should not only provide the appropriate framework in terms of pacing and language to use within the lesson, but should also include the appropriate materials. Depending on the subject area being taught, this could include word lists, equations, reading passages, and manipulatives. Providing these lesson materials, which are linked to the research-based instructional methods, can save teachers a significant amount of time otherwise spent gathering these resources themselves.

Establish a consistent process

One of the common obstacles to teacher effectiveness is constant organizational change. Far too often, schools change instructional methodologies and/or programs every few years. In order to be effective in their roles, teachers must have the opportunity to master the instructional process. A school’s assessment framework, data team process, and instructional routines all take time to embrace and internalize, and one should not confuse the process for the end goal. 

It is only when these processes become second nature for the school community that the teacher can be free to focus on the end goal of student instruction. Therefore, careful consideration should be brought to decisions regarding instructional materials and establishing processes.

Schools can achieve higher levels of teacher effectiveness by empowering teachers through a shared and clear understanding of core instructional materials, leveraging several kinds of assessments to build profiles of student ability, informing instructional priorities through the use of data, using research-based methodology for intervention, and embracing the process with consistency. A commitment to this kind of approach benefits teachers, students, administrators, and the entire school community.

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