This is the point in the year when you start to hope your students have actually learned something. But as with all good questions, asking yourself if your students have grown leads to more questions. How can I tell if they have grown? How do I communicate that growth? And once I know where my students are at, what comes next?

Finding a Data Story

The most important step in creating a good data story is having clear goals that are measurable and achievable. It’s great to want students to be better readers, but what specifically should you measure and how often?

Aligning your goals to the state standards will keep you aligned to the learning outcomes identified for your state, and any high-stakes tests that will come with those standards. While you would love to ensure each student masters each standard, instructional time is limited, so it is important to dedicate specific time and attention to the most critical standards.

Once you have your goals, determine how and when you will measure them. Remember that simple tools can effectively track student engagement and growth. Something that can be maintained at the appropriate cadence to catch intervention needs quickly might be all you need for monitoring. Also, using a variety of data sources with a mix of qualitative and quantitative measures will give you the most accurate picture of your students.

School leader using data to drive class decisions

Using Data to Drive Decisions

Now that you have data on student engagement, progress through content, and proficiency in learning targets, how do you use that data to take action? Look for patterns with individuals and across groups.

With individual students, encourage teachers and data teams to consider environmental and behavioral influences. If a student arrives late regularly, that may affect formative assessments given at the beginning of class, and be due to family situations outside the student’s control.

When scores are low, consider the curriculum you’re using and ask yourself if students have access to the right instruction and are learning the right skills? Do teachers need to pause the progress in one program to shore up unfinished learning before continuing? And, do teachers have the skills and materials for intervention or do they need support?

Sometimes data reveals patterns on a group level. If every student could use intervention with one or more standards, what kind of support do the teachers need? Do they need professional development through direct training or learning communities? Or is it a situation where a policy or process is unintentionally getting in the way of learning?

Sometimes teachers need additional materials to fill in the gaps of a core program to meet the needs of a particular student or group. While you are looking at your curricula, it’s worth checking the vertical alignment of each subject. Are the expectations of each grade being met? Are you over-teaching or under teaching and not getting to mastery? Are the essentials aligned with the skills that students will need in the next grade?

Data-Driven Decisions Take Time

And finally, if your school or district isn’t making data-driven decisions in the way that you would hope, how can you make small changes that add up to big gains over time? Creating a culture where everyone takes the time to review and plan around data doesn’t happen all at once, so think about small steps that won’t throw teachers off, but instead help them lead their students to achievement.

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