Put Your Data to Work!


Assessments are an essential part of education. From a student perspective, tests and quizzes are inconvenient and stress-filled events that may or may not determine their future plans with friends. From the teachers’ side, assessments are a window into students’ understanding and the first indicator of the effectiveness of their lesson design and teaching practice. The data that is collected, if used correctly, can give a clear picture of student achievement and informed processes of learning experiences in the classrooms. However, the data can become overwhelming and teachers can get lost. Here are two strategies for helping to put data to work in the classroom.

Less is More

When putting data to work, teachers must consider the amount of data collected. One example is a middle school math class. A teacher might assign 30 practice problems a night as homework. These homework activities are graded upon completion, and given a participation score of ten points per day.  Mathematically, if students complete their homework, they are going to have a strong participation score for the year. The students know which problems are incorrect because they corrected the homework themselves; however, does the data tell the teacher how many students need support on the previous day’s lesson? No. The only data collected indicates that students are able to put numbers on a paper in order.   

Consider the idea less is more.  To have data that truly inform instructional design, the core objectives need to be at the forefront of the assessment.  Considering the same math class previously mentioned, if the teacher were to assign three to five problems to students from which to determine individual student mastery, the resulting student work would be student achievement data.  The teacher could then use this information to determine the direction of future lessons, differentiation techniques, and personalized learning strategies.  

Another example of less is more is found using a single-point rubric. Traditional rubrics are very detailed and focused on each level of expectation within a project or activity. A single-point rubric is simpler in that criteria that are stripped down to the core standards or objectives. Information about additional levels of achievement is left out of the single-point rubric so that the focus stays on what needs to be mastered. Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy shares a brilliant blog post with templates on how the single-point rubric can help teachers focus on the important core ideas of the activity or assignment, without worrying about distractions. A key benefit of this rubric modeled in Gonzalez’s post is that teachers can assess core objectives within an assignment without micromanaging students’ development or vision.

Rachel Moshman also blogs about the power of the single-point rubric and how students are encouraged to self-assess using this tool: “Instead of the teacher filling in some or all of the columns, students can also use the rubric to evaluate their own work.” In order for the data teachers collect to truly inform innovative instructional design, teachers need to cut out the extras and focus on the important information.  Asking better questions and developing more personalized learning experiences offers more opportunities for authentic feedback from the teacher to the students.

The Click of a Mouse

When collecting and disaggregating data, there are many tools available for teachers to use. Google Forms is a simple assessment and survey tool that allows for a variety of question types including multiple-choice, short and long answers, checklists, and true-false among others.  Student responses are collected directly in the form, and the data is imported into a spreadsheet.  Within the spreadsheet, individual teachers, departments, and administrators can leverage tools including conditional formatting to clearly identify students who are struggling and those who are succeeding based on scores or answers to questions. 

Almost all learning management systems (LMS), including Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, and Schoology, have some sort of assessment tool that allows teachers to create quality assessments in which the data is collected and used future planning. Canvas is the chosen LMS in the district that I serve.  Within Canvas, like Google Forms, the Quizzes function offers a variety of question options and assessment functions. Teachers can add standards or outcomes to each question within the assessments, allowing them to target specific skills within each quiz.  Canvas also has the ability to give students multiple attempts at the assessment, creating clear opportunities for mastery within the assessment process.  

Looking for a lower-tech way to collect formative data? Check out Plickers! Plickers requires just a single phone or tablet. Students are given QR codes that associate with the questions asked. Students hold up the QR code for their chosen answer and give immediate information to the teacher scanning the room. Plickers gives automatic formative data for a teacher to use. Instead of asking a class for a “thumbs up, thumbs down”, Plickers collects and interprets the students’ responses to give immediate data on students’ answers.  The data is stored in the Plickers dashboard, which presents the assessment information with easy-to-read charts.   

Data-Informed Teaching and Learning is the Goal

Each student who walks into a classroom is unique.  The process of data-informed instruction creates greater opportunities for personalized learning experiences that develop each student with greater confidence and empowered thinking. 

Taylor Williams, M.E.T.

Additional Reading