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Q-and-A: Teacher effectiveness and student data

SmartBlog on Education recently interviewed Liz Brooke, vice president of education and research, Lexia Learning, about the role of student data in education. Learn more about trends in data-driven instruction, including blended learning, teacher effectiveness and more.

Schools nationwide are using blended-learning models. How do such models support a data-driven culture?

By definition, blended learning requires data in order to make the instructional connections between the independent, student-driven work and the teacher-led aspects of the program. This model allows students to accelerate at their own pace, while providing teachers the data they need to intervene when necessary with students needing extra support. The use of data on a daily basis to inform instruction is the kind of best practice we’re striving for in blended classrooms as well as in more traditional classroom setting. As a result, teachers can focus on students’ specific needs, and provide instruction and intervention in a timely manner.

How can schools use student data to improve teacher effectiveness and close achievement gaps?

Most teachers are trying to manage as many as 30 student profiles at one time in their classroom. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for the teacher to be able to work with each student individually—unless the teacher is managing time, priorities and instructional strategies based on student data.

Differentiated instruction depends on the teacher’s ability to use data to inform instruction. Lessons for whole group instruction may not be appropriate for students working above grade level and who have already mastered that particular skill. In such instances, teachers may want to adjust instruction for advanced students, based on performance data.

For students who are struggling, data should also be used not only to identify which skills need remediation and support, but also to determine the intensity of instruction necessary to help them close the gap and meet year-end, grade-level standards. Many struggling students are working one or two years behind grade-level, and require different levels of instructional intensity. Careful analysis of student data will help the teacher provide the appropriate intensity.

This kind of data-driven approach helps ensure that teachers are providing the right instructional strategies to the right students at the right time—empowering greater teacher effectiveness.

Collection of student learning data through traditional testing sometimes disrupts the teaching flow. What strategies can help schools collect data without disruption?

Every teacher’s day is packed already, so limiting the amount of instructional time spent delivering assessments is absolutely critical. Here is where technology can play a key role. There are a number of tech-based instructional programs that can collect performance data in the background while students are working on instructional activities. In such cases, students continue to work on skill development, while teachers can monitor performance data in real time. This kind of assessment is called “embedded assessment.”

Alternatively, computer-administered assessments reduce some of the time burden for teachers associated with the administration of various forms of assessment. When these assessments are also computer-adaptive—meaning they adjust dynamically according to student ability—they provide a more time-efficient model, because they can quickly hone-in on each student’s precise skill level. These time savings from computer-administered and computer-adaptive assessment help teachers focus their energy on instruction, rather than assessment.

Educators sometimes struggle with knowing what to do with student learning data. How have some schools navigated this challenge?

I am a big believer in the power of collaboration. Some of the most successful schools I’ve visited have made data meetings a central component of their strategy to analyze and strategize based on the student data available. Equally important, though, is the focus on ensuring follow-through after these meetings. Without accountability for actually implementing and measuring the strategies, the time in these data meetings is not productive.

The school’s data management system can have a significant impact on teachers’ ability to make the necessary connections between data and instruction. Some of the available technology platforms provide teachers with a direct link between student outcomes and the necessary instructional strategies or teacher-led lesson material. This is the most explicit way to connect data to instruction.

It’s easy for educators to become overly focused on the process of gathering student learning data, and then get lost in terms of how to act upon the data on Monday morning. So, regardless of what data system a district uses, it is important that the analysis and subsequent strategies happen quickly—if not in real time. The key is to connect the data to instruction while the data is fresh. Waiting six weeks to analyze and act-up data is counter-productive.

What does the use of student learning data look like five years from now?

We will most likely see the standard school model evolve to more closely reflect a blended learning model, allowing for more personalized and individualized instruction. The role of the teacher is still critical, but they will be using data and approaching their instructional time very strategically to address individual or small group needs. Data is going to be the driving force for what the day looks like in the classroom. Hopefully, this will be the catalyst for more in-depth teacher training on how to use data as an integral part of instruction.

Let’s not forget, there are students behind the data, and the positive impact of teacher-led groups can become even more powerful when the teacher has data to steer interactions between homogenous and heterogeneous groups. This can help every student to draw upon their strengths and address their weaknesses through the rich dialog of peer-to-peer learning.

We are at an exciting time right now, though. We’re beginning to see the foundations for what I believe is a much more student-centric model that empowers teachers to have the greatest impact in the classroom.

Dr. Liz Brooke, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
, is vice president of education and research at Lexia Learning. Learn more by reading Dr. Liz Brooke’s “Five Key Factors to Empowering Greater Teacher Effectiveness.