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[Best Practices] 5 Tips to Improve Student Outcomes with Data

Tuesday, October 24, 2017 -- Sarah Cornelius

Today’s educators have access to a wide variety of student data, but are you getting the right data? And are you making the best use of it? Check out these five best practices designed to help you weed through the noise and make sure that the data you’re collecting through online programs, classroom tests, and high-stakes assessments is adding value to both your teaching and your students’ learning.

1. Embrace formative assessment

If you really want to make the most of your student data, then assessment needs to be viewed as an ongoing process. But, that doesn’t mean that you have to worry about dedicating even more valuable (and scarce) class time to testing. Instead, take advantage of a formative approach to assessment, incorporating quick, low-stakes checks for understanding within your lessons. You’ll get valuable data, in real-time, on where your students’ learning is at that can help you make meaningful adjustments on the spot.

2. Make sure that your lesson and assessment goals are aligned

Sometimes, it is tempting to give assessments as a simple spot check to see who was paying attention in class on a given day. However, this is not the most effective use of assessments. In order to gain meaningful data, it is critical to make sure that any assessment you administer aligns with the central purpose of the lesson it follows. This is the best way to ensure that your students are gaining the knowledge they need within the context of relevant standards. It also will provide you with the most meaningful information to drive future instruction and determine your most (or least) effective teaching practices.

3. Be transparent about assessment goals and scales

The point of assessments isn’t to trip up students with “gotcha” questions. They should know exactly how they are being (or will be) assessed throughout the course of a lesson. In fact, they should be able to tell you how successful they will be before you even administer an assessment.

Let’s use a golf analogy. Every course has a “par”, or score that a golfer should theoretically achieve at the end of the round. A course’s par is public information; it’s right there on the score card and everyone who plays the course is aware of it. During the course of the round, players can easily determine their standing in relation to par. Nothing comes as a surprise, especially when they find out how they did at the end of the round. As a teacher, you can take a similarly transparent approach. Each lesson should have a par (goal), and students should be able to keep track of their learning in relation to it at any point in the instruction.

4. Use your data to make a plan

Many teachers get upset when assessments reveal that students have not learned as much as expected. It’s easy to feel frustrated at the prospect of reteaching information or intimidated by the situation of simply needing to move on and risk students falling behind.

However, the point of gathering data is to formulate a course of action. Every assessment, both formal and informal, should be given with the possibility of having to reinforce learning. It can be helpful to view this process of assessment and review as an opportunity for 100% student success. This article from ASCD goes into much more depth about corrective instruction and giving students second chances to demonstrate mastery.

5. Talk to your students about their data

Students aren’t ignorant. They know that test scores are important, and they’re aware of what their scores have been previously on the “big tests”. Yet, assessment scores remain a taboo topic in some schools and classrooms.

Be forthright and take the opportunity to sit students down, study their recent data with them, and get their opinions on how recent assessments have gone. Discuss what they found challenging, as well as areas where they excelled. Continue this dialogue throughout the year—these conversations can be just as valuable as the data itself in helping you drive instruction and make meaningful connections with your learners.

At Edmentum, we’ve worked hard to design online programs that provide educators with the data they need, in formats that make sense. Interested in learning more about how our online courses, classroom practice and assessment tools, and personalized learning programs can support your data-driven instruction? Check out Danville Schools story, and find out how they are achieving Success for All Students, At Every Level!