When reviewing your students’ data, keep these tips in mind to help unpack what the data means and decide what to do about it. Knowing how to interpret and use the data effectively will help you understand where your students are in their learning and plan important next steps for instruction.
1. Maintain Objectivity
Before digging into the data, squash any preconceived notions. What you know about your students should not be dismissed, but looking at data objectively allows you to see things you didn’t know about them. One way to help maintain objectivity is to hide student names as you analyze data.
2. Start with a Question
It’s important to approach data with a specific purpose. To set a goal for your analysis, try starting with a question like, “Which students need to revisit last week’s focus skills?”
Often, the answers you find will prompt you to ask new questions, explore additional data sources, and repeat the process to dig deeper. Depending on the data you have, a few helpful questions might be:
How is my class performing, and what are their domain-specific instructional priorities?
How can I group my students and plan to address their instructional priorities?
Which students could benefit from additional support?
Josh Almeida, curriculum, data, and assessment manager at New Bedford Public Schools, initially focused on attendance data because “students who weren’t in class couldn’t learn.” But when Josh dug deeper, he discovered: “Students who started the year on grade level or above were not growing as fast as the students who were starting two to three years below grade level.” This led the district to readdress their instruction. “Tier 1 instruction should mean tier one,” he said, although they still set up “safety nets” for students who need them.
3. Schedule Time Regularly
Data can be very powerful in helping to pinpoint students’ strengths and instructional priorities. Dedicating time to review data regularly allows you to take on-the-spot action, implement solutions, and assess prior action steps to improve student achievement. Mississippi Grade K teacher Becki Cope reflects on the benefits of these actions: “In the beginning, you don’t really know your students,” she said. “Without a Diagnostic, it might take me weeks to figure out where my students are at, but the data gives me that information in the first weeks of school, which helps me adjust my instruction.”
Joe Flick, Grades K–2 math interventionist from New York, always reminds his students: “The Diagnostic is not to see how smart you are. It’s for me to know what I need to teach you.”
4. Engage Students and Families in Growth and Progress
Sharing data with students and families is a crucial part of engaging students in their learning. By facilitating data chats, students can discuss their strengths and areas for improvement, set learning goals, plan next steps, and celebrate their growth. “The minute my students finish their Diagnostic, we look at the data together, and I break it down with them—where they are at, what they need to work on, and how I can help,” said Hanna Grayson, New York City middle school teacher. “Then we create a plan.” Each plan is different because each student is different.
“I used to think third graders were too young to set data-driven goals, but it’s so untrue,” added Mindy Geer, a Grade 3 teacher in Michigan. “Together, the student and I will look at their reading and math data and have a conversation about where they want to be in a few months, or the end of the marking period, and even at the end of the year.” Encouraging your students to share goals and progress with their families or guardians helps promote student ownership of learning and growth.
And when students make any progress—even if it’s small—it’s a great opportunity to celebrate.
If you have more suggestions for educators, please share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.