Data Driven Instruction
The term data-driven instruction refers to a teacher’s use of the results from various student assessments to plan instruction. Research has shown this process to be an effective way to improve student achievement.
What is required for data-driven instruction?
Baseline data that gives a good sense of where students are at the beginning of the year; these data often come from the prior year’s state test because schools are held accountable by such tests.
Clear goals for what students are expected to learn and to achieve; these goals are usually related to state standards and grade-level expectations. Goals may also be specific to improved performance on the state test, for example, raising the percentage of students scoring Proficient or higher in mathematics from 67% last year to 84% this year.
Regular assessments across the school year; frequent assessments provide multiple pieces of evidence about student knowledge and skills. Such assessments help to benchmark students’ progress across the school year.
Well-focused and well-planned instruction that is based on evidence; these data show what students know and are able to do and what they still need to learn.
What kinds of tests inform data-driven instruction?
You will fi nd that you can use a variety of tests for data-driven instruction, but all of them should be reliable, valid, and aligned to the standards, concepts, and skills students are expected to learn. These standards-aligned tests can include state tests and benchmark tests that are administered several times each year and cover all standards. You can even use chapter or unit tests that assess a specific standard or subset of standards.
How do you use the tests to inform instruction?
Start with a Class Summary of Test Results. The Class Summary should report results in terms of the applicable standards and should have specific information about the grade level expectations and even what the test items addressed. From a Class Summary, you can identify strands in which students did well and those in which they had difficulty. A plan of instruction can be based on information from a Class Summary.
What is the process for achieving data-driven instruction?
First: Target areas where students are having difficulty. This is basically a sorting exercise to identify:
strengths—areas in which the class as a whole did quite well
challenges—areas in which the class did fairly well but were not strong
critical needs—areas in which the class did not perform well
The sorting is not based simply on which strands received the highest or lowest scores. It is based on criteria that place class performances into three categories. Typically, you look at the average percentage of all items answered correctly in each strand and apply predetermined criteria. For example:
Strength: 80% or higher—Most students were able to answer correctly the majority of questions on the tested content.
Challenge: 65%–79%—Most students had a moderate understanding of the tested content.
Critical Need: less than 65%—Most students struggled with the tested content.
To select targets for data-driven instruction, start with the Critical Needs strands. Next, you will select standards or grade-level expectations within those strands for intervention. It is usually more effective to target improvement efforts on a limited number of concepts, so focus intervention on two or three areas.
Second: Focus on specifi c needs. After identifying the Critical Needs strands, drill down within a strand. Look at the grade-level expectations and do an item analysis of the skills and concepts.
In the targeted strands, are there specific skills or concepts your students understand? Can you build on instruction using those skills? Are there specific areas in which students have difficulty? What are the weakest areas?
Drilling down inside a strand to specific grade-level expectations or standards in which students are weak will help you clarify what students understand and where they need more instruction.
Analysis of test data to provide instructional focus can be done for a single test but is more effective when multiple pieces of information are brought to the process. Review student work samples or look across several tests. Has a particular skill or strand been a challenge or critical need over time, on the state test, on other benchmark tests, on chapter tests? The more clearly and fully you understand what students know and are able to do, the more easily you can plan effective instruction.
Third: Plan effective instruction. Teachers have to plan, develop, and deliver appropriate lessons to address focal skills and concepts. The results from schools that use a data-driven approach to instruction indicate that it can be an effective way to ensure that students learn standards. The approach helps raise student achievement in the process.
To plan effective instruction, you must first backmap the concepts and skills related to student understanding and application. Backmapping is analyzing a grade-level expectation to identify the prerequisite skills and knowledge needed to meet the expectation. Information on prerequisite skills can help pinpoint conceptual problems.
There are eight elements that provide a framework for appropriate and effective instruction:
1. Develop the concepts. Developing concepts lays a foundation on which students can build their understanding. This is often done using manipulatives, pictorials, or real-life contexts.
2. Begin with what students already know. New concepts are easier to master when they are anchored to information students already know.
3. Build fluency. Students are given opportunities to practice newly learned skills and concepts.
4. Relate concepts to problem solving or applications. When students apply what they have learned to other classroom situations and to real-life situations, they are more likely to retain what they have learned.
5. Encourage students to explain their reasoning. When students explain their understanding of concepts to others, they clarify their own thinking.
6. Provide for high levels of engagement. The more students practice and apply skills and concepts in meaningful ways, the more they learn.
7. Incorporate the social nature of learning. While whole-group instruction and individual work are important, so are partner work and small-group work.
8. Make use of visuals and graphic organizers. Pictures, charts, story maps, and other visual aids help learners connect to and retain information.
Keep in mind that if targeted instruction is actually “reteaching” concepts and skills previously taught, it is important to use different strategies and activities than those used in initial instruction. Repeating the identical instruction a second time is unlikely to produce a better result. Teachers should ask themselves: What will I do differently as a teacher? What will my students do differently as learners?
It is also a good idea to incorporate quick-checks regularly to ensure student understanding. This is most effective when the check is performed daily or almost daily and is incorporated within the regular lesson.
Data Driven Best Practices