Essential Solutions 2-MIN. READ

Seeing Your Students beyond the Data

By: Jennifer Seitz 09/19/2023
Discover how a student-centered approach can provide great data beyond the numbers.
An educator connects with a student as they take a selfie.

We all know how important it is to collect and analyze data. Our districts provide training throughout the year on this very topic. We’re told “data drives instruction,” which is a statement that can’t be argued with. But, as teachers, how do we effectively collect accurate student data? Is there a magic trick? Should we all stock up on sticky notes to document every behavior we observe?

Here’s what I’ve learned about collecting good data in my classroom.

It’s about More Than Just a Score

Student data isn’t just a diagnostic score or how they measure up against certain criteria. Data includes who each student is—and it all begins on day one. When we build positive relationships with students and their families, we can collect authentic, reliable data beyond the numbers. When you understand what your students are going through at home, how much they have on their plate, what their attitude is when test taking, or how much self-confidence they have in their abilities, you can better understand their outcomes.

Here are some ways I get to know my students:

  • Take Student Inventories: On assessment days (or any day throughout the year), I check in with my students to see how they’re feeling. I always ask myself, “How can I make today a positive learning day?” Did my students sleep well? Did they have an off morning?” Asking students these questions can help prepare them for meaningful learning.
  • Establish Authenticity: It takes mutual trust to establish positive teacher–student relationships. My students walk into class every day knowing that our classroom is a shared, safe space. When our students trust us, they feel comfortable asking questions about assessments and giving their best effort. Students who feel safe perform in an authentic manner, unafraid to push themselves academically for fear of making a mistake. This is when we see the “true learner.”
  • Get Families Involved: It’s so important to work together with students and their families to track progress and set goals for future success. I make a point of going over data with my students and engaging their caregivers in the process. We talk about previous performance, ideas for improvement, and creating an environment that promotes success, like getting enough sleep and eating a balanced breakfast.

Put Assessments into Perspective

Many of my students are already familiar with taking diagnostics and state assessments. Even so, it’s important to frame big tests beforehand. Explaining what will happen on testing days helps students get to a place where they feel equipped to succeed.

  • Check In with Students: When testing day approaches, I take stock of my students’ feelings. We discuss their attitudes about the upcoming test, strategies for if they get stuck or nervous, and their overall goals. I also remind them that the diagnostic is as much for me as it is for them. It helps me understand what they need, so I can be a more effective teacher.
  • Show Students What They’re Working Toward: I like to place sticky notes on students’ desks to show them what they’ve accomplished in the past and where they need to improve. We talk about what types of practice they need to reach their goals on upcoming tests, which helps them invest in their own achievement.
  • Teach Testing Strategies: Before administering a diagnostic, I ensure students know what to do if they hit a stumbling block. I remind them to take their time and make it clear that they can raise their hand to take a short break or a few breaths if needed. Knowing that they have options when they are feeling discouraged or overwhelmed empowers students to do their best.
  • Tell Students What to Expect: With lengthy assessments, students should know what kinds of questions they may face. I explain that they will know some answers right away and others might require more brain power. Preparing them prevents them from throwing in the towel when they reach a challenging problem.

While student scores provide valuable information, we need to remember the children right before us. They all have different needs and learning experiences that should be honored. Be flexible with the tools you’re using and give yourself grace as you figure out the process that works for you. Remember to be yourself and remind your students that they are so much more than how they perform on tests.

For more strategies to humanize data, check out this episode of the Extraordinary Educators™ podcast.

Check out this data chats resource to involve students in assessment goal setting and invest in their learning.