Three Ways Student Data Can Inform Your Teaching




In her work with UCLA's Graduate School of Education, Rebecca Alber assists teachers and schools in meeting students' academic needs through best practices. Alber also instructs online teacher-education courses for Stanford University.

The job of a teacher is to be faithful to authentic student learning. Currently, our profession is fixated on results from one test, from one day, given near the end of the school year. And, yes, that is data that can be useful, however, we teachers spend the entire year collecting all sorts of immediate and valuable information about students that informs and influences how we teach, as well as where and what we review, re-adjust, and re-teach.

So when we speak about student data, here's how teachers collect it and some of the ways we use it.

#1 From the Classroom

Formative Assessments

Checking for understanding with low-stakes assessments are really the most important and useful of student data. Using exit slips, brief quizzes, and thumbs up/thumbs down are a few of my favorite ways to gather information on where students are and where we need to go next.


The beauty of having a constructivist, student-directed classroom? The kids are comfortable with you walking around and sitting with them in their groups -- your "guide on the side" role. In other words, they don't freeze up when you step away from the podium or your teacher-directed spot by the whiteboard. This freedom allows you to be a fly on the wall, gathering data on individual students -- how well are they making sense of the content? Interacting with others? Are they struggling with a learning activity? Observation data then allow us to adjust pacing for the whole class or scaffold for those students who are still struggling.

Projects, Essays, Exams

Summative assessments, such as a literary analysis essay or an end-of-unit science exam, allow us to measure the growth of individual and whole-group learning. If a large number of students don't do well on a high-stakes assessment, we need to reflect back on the teaching and make necessary adjustments in the future.

#2 From Cumulative Files

It's difficult to find the time to do it, but if you haven't before, trust me it's well worth it. Much information is found in a student's file. Just from trekking to the counseling office, sitting down with a cup of coffee after school and reading through files belonging to students I had deeper wonderings about beyond the data in hand, I've discovered over the years, to name a few, some of the following:

  • A girl who often missed class was homeless
  • Several students identified as gifted but inaccurately placed in my general education English class
  • A boy struggling to fit in had recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia
  • More than a dozen students who never wore eyeglasses in class (or contacts, I checked) had prescriptions

From a child's cumulative files you can sometimes see a dramatic grade change somewhere along the road during their school journey. Perhaps prior to eighth grade, the child was an A student, then from there, D's and F's. You can express this concern, sharing this data with them. Students may then share with you a reason: parents divorced, they moved to a new city/community. I had one student share that she just gave up on school when her dad went to prison.

You then have an opportunity to provide empathy, acknowledge their hardship, and then set some goals together for the child to improve academically.

#3 From the State Test

Taking a look at previous standardized test scores for your current students is beneficial in several ways. A disclaimer: just as one grade does not determine all that a student is or isn't, nor does one test score. Use standardized test data results along with other data (i.e. in-class assignments, observations) when making instructional decisions. That said, here are some suggestions for using standardized test data:

  • First, you can share the testing results with students individually and set some obtainable, realistic goals for them to work towards before the next test. (By the way, I don't agree with making this data public to all students as was done at one Orange County, Calif., high school recently).
  • It reveals which of your students performed advanced, proficient, basic and below basic. This could help inform how you choose student groups, create seating charts, and differentiate for individuals. If I have a student who has historically scored below basic and she exhibits other signs of a struggling student, I like to place her in the front of the class so that I can easily access her when she needs extra support
  • If you have a high number of students who scored advanced in your third period class for example and a high number of students who scored basic in period two, this may give insights as to why period three may be moving more quickly and more deeply through content. You can adjust the learning and support accordingly
  • How about those ace students who didn't do so well on the standardized test? Possibly a nervous test-taker? Or it could simply be low motivation (since many students never hear hide nor hair about their standardized test results from previous years). Prior to the test, a brief pep talk or quick review of test strategies for lowering anxiety could be all that she or he needs

What are ways in which you collect student data and how has this benefited the instruction and learning in your classroom?

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