Quantifying for Improvement [CROSS-POST]

For the past six months, I have been maintaining the Seize the Data! blog that I created as part of a team of amazing teachers.  The blog is a forum for discussing all things #eddata and #assessment, and also a voice for the powerful data literacy curriculum that we developed with the help of NCCAT, NC DPI, and a data literacy expert.  The post below is a “reprint” of my most recent entry on that blog, because I thought that the Scripted Spontaneity audience might enjoy the topic. 



Personal data collection is becoming a major industry in America.  My wife just bought me a Fitbit Force–a Bluetooth-enabled wristband that tracks movement and captures exercise–to encourage me to be more active.  When I first used it, however, I feared the same effect that happens in our classrooms around data collection.

Sometimes, the focus in schools is so pinpoint-focused on creating and administering assessments that the tests themselves tend to become the goal.  So much attention and effort is put into writing the tests and deploying them, that by the time teachers receive data it is largely summative and irrelevant to their instruction.

My Fitbit Force, however, continuously communicates with my iPhone to share current data, and then it shares those data with other services like  On MyFitnessPal, I can log my diet using an amazing database of foods–commercial and homemade.  I can even scan the barcodes of store-bought foods to enter them into the system.  MyFitnessPal develops a weight-loss plan for me based on calories per day, and then shows me progress during the day.  I can adjust my meals and exercise as my day goes on to ensure that I stay below my daily maximum.

Imagine if we could do the same for students and teachers.  If we could assess them continually and unobtrusively, compare the data to goals that we helped to create, and then provide meaningful feedback to improve mastery (or, in the case of teachers, instruction).  The technology to do this is within our grasp, and should become much more common as the cost comes down.  But, ultimately, this is what good thoughtful teachers do already.  They observe and monitor student learning, adjust lessons to meet their needs, and aren’t surprised by the results of big tests.

That’s why Seize the Data! is a great first step for teachers who want to know more about how to collect the right data and make the best use of it.  The Winter Semester of our online course is underway, but we are constantly scheduling blended learning and workshop-style sessions for schools and districts who want to bring this critical knowledge to their teachers, free of charge.  You can sign up at our Registration page, or come back in February to join an online cohort as they form for our Spring Semester.


Choosing the Right Station

medium_2550814754For the past twelve years, teaching has been my life.  I mean this in almost every sense of the word.  I’ve spent more time teaching–creating and delivering lessons–than any other activity over that time, including sleep.  More than that, I have spent enormous quantities of effort and money in the quest to improve my practice.  I’ve read dozens of books about education, pored over hundreds of blog posts, and attended days worth of professional development sessions.  To some eyes, I’ve been obsessed with being a better teacher.

Obsessions come with a penalty, though.  All of that time spent on one mission, particularly one that pays so little, can leave a negative impact on one’s family.  I was lucky enough to find two or three part-time jobs that paid pretty well, but that left even less time to be with my kids and my lovely (and patient) wife.  Others have already whined complained about this, so I won’t belabor the point.

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Efficient Assessment, Part 3: The Decisions

In previous blog posts, I’ve laid out the questions I ask myself when designing an assessment and the ways in which I collect student mastery data.  This month, I answer the question “What do I do with these data?”

Few in the standardized-test-driven galaxy in which public education lives these days would argue that we don’t have enough information about our students.  Those who aren’t crazy about the data from state exams can always collect their own information directly from their students.  Personally, I prefer these data because they are more targeted at the knowledge and skills that I know my students need to have and that I have been teaching in my classroom.

But, getting the data isn’t the most important part, at least in my opinion.  The magic, of course, is in what we do with the information we have.

I am fortunate to be a member of a pilot program to train North Carolina teachers in Data Literacy.  My cohort is helping to develop the lessons that will be used to help classroom teachers all over the state better understand data and assessment.  This has got me thinking a lot about this difficult issue.  I mean, in a perfect world, I would have plenty of time (plus smaller classes and extra teaching help) to provide the remediation that my assessments indicate is needed.

In the real world of public education, however, we are constantly asked to “do more with less”.  We are responsible for the learning of every single student no matter how differently they are prepared, how differently they learn, or how hard they work.  How we use our assessment data is one of the few things we can control.

So, here is what I do with mine.  First, I group students using my data.  This usually translates to a Masters group (on or above grade-level) and a Developing group (below grade-level proficiency).  I provide self-paced enrichment for the Masters, sometimes involving preparing review materials for others, or tutoring members of the Developing group, and I personally provide extra instruction to the Developing group.  This can be Study Island review activities or hands-on experiences with topics where the entire class didn’t get one).  Above all, I seek to provide another way for these students to experience the concepts and another chance for them to understand it.

The second way that I use my assessment data is in planning further whole-class activities.  If the data show me that there is a misconception or gap in understanding that is widespread, I can focus on clearing up that confusion.  Often, this is best achieved by providing a demonstration or video that makes the point in a way that is surprising.  Students will frequently remember a visual experience that has changed their thinking.

The last way that I use the data from my assessment is in determining a student’s grade in my Science class.  Summative data are my least favorite, as I’m sure they are for many teachers, and I resist the urge to stamp a final grade on any assignment until deadlines beyond my control force my hand.  But, ultimately, it is important for students, teachers, and parents to know what level of mastery students have achieved.

For me, that is what assessment data leads to: differentiation, better lesson planning, and summative grades.  The beauty of good classroom assessment, however, is that there is so much more that a skilled teacher can do with this information.  The key is to collect it, share it, and use it.  Don’t give a test just because you’ve finished teaching something.  Assess early and often, and use the data with students to help them improve their understanding.

What do you do with your student assessment data?

photo credit: prayitno via photopin cc