Last week I gathered my in-house focus group (yes, my daughters) to ask them what they hope that teachers will learn about them in the first few weeks of school. I was pleased when one answered, “I hope they understand my strengths and weaknesses, so they can help me and not get frustrated when I don’t understand.”
“Wow!” I thought. “How great! I’ve just spent two years working on a tool to give to ISB teachers in order support them in doing just that.”
The tool we’ve been working so hard on is a new data portal—a system that connects right into powerschool, that we can use to pull together all the disparate sources of academic data we have about each student and present that data to teachers at a glance.
The data that’s entered into the data portal is customized by Elementary, Middle, and High school, but the basics are the same: we have two types of data: external assessments (like the MAP test and others), and internal common assessments (such as Writing, Math, and PE, as well as Science, Social Studies in middle and high school.)
Want to know your students’ reading comprehension so you can check if they’ll be able to make sense of the text you’re handing them?
We’ve got you covered.
Want to see which students have similar strengths and growth areas, so you know which small group might benefit from a strategy lesson on a skill they learned last year?
We can show you that!
Data like this will help us most if we keep in mind the strengths and limitations of the two types of data:
External test data (like MAP data)
- Reliable measure of students’ basic skills in reading, math, and language usage.
- Often you can look back at several years’ data to see the growth trends
- Cannot measure very deep cognitive complexity, such as analysis, synthesis, evaluation skills
ISB Common Vertical Assessment data:
Strength: Measures more cognitively complex tasks, such as
- Analyzing the strengths and limitations of a primary source in social studies
- Modeling a math problem or scientific phenomenon
- Writing a short narrative about their own life
- Assessing their own fitness and making a plan to improve it in Health and PE.
- Identifying relevant evidence to support an argument
The data on whether the student can achieve these more cognitively complex goals provides a useful counterpoint to the sometimes-limiting external assessment data. It’s not hard to imagine an emergent bilingual student whose MAP scores looks low because she doesn’t have the language skills to comprehend the questions, but who is an excellent critical thinker who can analyze and model a scientific phenomenon.
- Sometimes the common assessment data is confounded by things like the way the question was worded (so the student got confused and didn’t apply the skill they were meant to be measuring).
Together, these two types of data aim to provide a balanced view of what each student’s learning journey has been.
Our job as teachers is to learn deeply about our students, so we can meet them where they are, give them just the right amount of challenge to help them grow.
How can we help our students work in the zone of proximal development, that sweet spot for optimal growth, if we don’t know where they’re starting?
So, a practical suggestion:
After you do your first pre-assessment, put it side by side with the student view of the portal. (If you need help getting in, here is a step by step instruction manual!)
- Does anything surprise you?
- What are this students’ areas of strength and where might they need extra support?
- Has this student been growing?
Next, consider your actions based on the data.
- Do you need to reteach an earlier skill?
- Create a small group?
- Collaborate with a coteacher to target specific skills?
- How might this data influence what you assign as homework (independent practice!)
How you follow up on the data is up to your professional judgement, requiring all the art and skill you have as a teacher.
I want to leave you with a caveat: a data portal will never tell you which student was the lead of the school play last year, or which one worked for ages perfecting his design for a robotic animal or which one loves reading graphic novels. Listening to your students, making that connection, combined with providing just the right amount of challenge—there’s nothing that can improve your students’ learning more effectively than that.