Saturday, August 26, 2017

Testing and Data Informed Instruction

In our school system, we collect both informal and formal data throughout the year to inform our learning/teaching program. I find the data analysis to be very useful and helpful when it comes to planning and teaching a good program.

slice of a student data chart
This morning I reviewed a host of scores for last year's students and upcoming students too. I was able to easily transfer the scores to a spread sheet and manipulate in a number of ways. In the early days of school, I'll add initial assessment scores to the list, and I have a page for observations, parent comments, and notes from last year's teachers.

Initially, what do I look for with the data?

First, I look to see who has faced significant challenges with academic expectations and/or social/emotional areas of school life. I want to make sure that we have a good program in place with plenty of supports for these students.

Next I look at discrepancies. For example, perhaps the child is excelling with all academic expectations, but facing great social/emotional issues, or a child may have very high math/science scores, but challenged English language arts performance. That discrepancy sends up a signal for more sensitive teaching. I also look at how many students fall into each category. For example if one homeroom has more than 50% who struggle with expectations that may mean that I ask for extra support for that homeroom, or on the other hand if a homeroom demonstrates significant success with the standards, that may mean that I need to pay close attention to enrichment opportunities.

Some who don't like standardized tests at all, decry this data. Yet, I continue to be a fan of streamlined standardized tests that give  us a ball park idea about where a child's performance is in relation to his/her peers and academic expectations. For example, I may think that I can see all with regard to a child's overall program, but the truth is that I do cull new and interesting information from assessment of standardized tests as well as collection of more informal data. The standardized tests help me pinpoint where specific challenges may occur.

On the other hand, though, the standardized tests don't provide data that surprises us too often. Typically students with greater socioeconomic advantage do better on these tests, and that's something that we have to think deeply about with the question of how can we make sure that every child gets what they need so they are progressing well no matter who they are or where they come from. We know a flaw of the tests is that it only looks at success through a narrow lens rather than a broad, contextual, real-life, holistic lens.

I've been reading quite a bit about bringing up our most challenged students, and what I'm positively challenged by is the research that says students do better when they are given high expectations and working with those who are achieving at high levels. This research suggests that our inclination to group challenged students together may not be a good idea. The research also suggests that we work explicitly with family members to let them know that every child is capable of tremendous success, but that it takes a collaborative commitment of consistent time and effort from the entire teaching/learning team including students, family members, educators, administrators, and community members.

Last year, I made a greater effort to uplift challenged students, and I made some good progress. The students were happy, engaged, and learning. There were some significant accomplishments, but I'm still not satisfied. This year I want to keep working on this goal with the following efforts:
  • early year conferences with family members and students who are most challenged to see how we can work together to boost that child's overall learning achievement and success.
  • a targeted program that mostly puts these children in with high achievers, but also provides them with the necessary tools and supports to give them what they need to succeed.
  • more feedback and explicit response
  • lots of teaching/learning about how to learn and access the strategies, tools, and supports that make you a successful learner.
  • meaningful, real-world study 
  • plenty of time for relationship building
I'll be interested in what my colleagues have to say about the many scores I analyzed and the will to bring up our most challenged learners with even more success. This is a challenge I'm committed to, and I welcome your ideas.