How To Navigate Student Assessment Data
Let’s face it—As much as our students may loathe them, assessments are a necessity. And for good reason. Large-scale summative assessments allow us to gather vast and diverse data, while formative assessments complement them with detailed data that allows us to target specific improvements. This data is often so enlightening that it can literally change the course of our lives—or at least our lesson plans.
Let’s assume everyone knows how to administer an assessment (“Keep your eyes on your own paper… er, screen!”). But the following question wouldn’t fall into the age-old-question category if everyone had the answer to it:
So, what do you do with student assessment data?
Cue the choral response from every professional development session ever:
Use it to guide instruction!
And you’re like, “Of course, but what does that mean?”
Don’t worry, we’ll break it down in a minute. But first, let’s briefly ensure we’re seeing eye-to-eye about the significance of student assessment data.
Why Is Student Assessment Data So Important?
Assessments—both formative and summative—provide students and teachers with vital information about what students understand, have mastered, and need more help with. They also inform teachers about what was taught effectively and what may have slipped through the cracks.
The beauty of it is that having all of this information puts you—as an educator—in an extremely advantageous position. You have the power to metaphorically write the story, here. (Of course, you’ve got the power to literally write a story, too. If that’s your thing). Assessment data tells you when the setting needs to be adjusted, if there are are glaring plot holes, or if your characters aren’t all on the same page.
Let’s dig in to what to do with the data once we have it.
Provide Real Feedback
Students deserve feedback on every single assessment they complete. And I don’t mean “Good job, Anthony. You got an A,” or “You got a C, Beth. You’ll have to retest.” Real feedback needs to be timely, specific, and constructive—but not necessarily positive.
Feedback doesn’t need to be sugar-coated or sandwiched between praise. It needs to be actionable and delivered in a well-formatted manner that’s intended to help students understand their strengths and weaknesses, not embarrass them or call them out. In the long run, genuine feedback will help students grow both academically and personally—it’s thick-skin inducing, you know.
Look For Gaps In Student Learning… Then Fill Them
Enlist students in the study of their own data. Letting students identify their own strengths and weaknesses through data analysis puts their learning in the palm of their hands. Students become actively engaged in their growth when they analyze and use their data for learning.
Once they’ve learned how to read the data and you start to explore it together—you’ll discover their learning gaps. These gaps can be defined as the difference between the way things are—what students actually learned or didn’t learn—and the way things should be—how they measure up to the original learning objective. If left unaddressed, learning gaps have a tendency to compound over time, becoming more severe and pronounced, which unfortunately can lead to enhanced academic struggles and even dropping out of school.
Luckily, student assessment data gives you and your students a comprehensive—or specific, depending on the type of assessment—view of their needs. Use your discoveries to craft lessons that help students reach their goals.
Set Realistic Academic Goals
Specific elements of student assessment data can be used to create S.M.A.R.T. goals for students. The idea is to get them thinking beyond simple statements like, “Get an A in math.” One of the most important aspects of S.M.A.R.T. goals is that they include an actionable plan with benchmarks. By giving themselves a roadmap, students are able to keep track of their progress which empowers them as they work toward something tangible.
While S.M.A.R.T. goals may be the game-winning strategy, keep in mind that the name of the game is still realistic, after all. And here’s why. The fear is that a student who makes an unrealistic or unclear goal will not be successful and then feel disappointed with their “failure”, which can be a major hit to their confidence. If a student typically earns Cs or Ds in History, encourage them to shoot for a B on their next assessment and build up to an A from there.
Once you’ve worked with students to set realistic S.M.A.R.T. goals, the next step is to develop an action plan and timeline to bring the goal to life. Based on the assessment data, have students develop a list of mini goals to reach along the way. This way, they’re able to acknowledge and celebrate small wins, which provides motivation for reaching the larger goal.
Evaluate and Improve Professional Learning
What better way to gauge the effectiveness of teacher professional development than by using data from the students they teach? Student assessment data provides invaluable insights for making wise instructional decisions.
Incorporate data as part of the ongoing professional learning scene at your campus or district. Not only is studying data a worthwhile activity that promotes collaboration amongst teachers and other instructional staff, but it brings to light the solid evidence needed to effect change. With a deeper understanding of students’ needs, teachers and administrators can focus on the best types of professional development to meet them where they are.
Ultimately, your students’ assessment data is a gold mine that—with the tools you’ve learned here—can be tapped into to enhance learning and improve teaching for all.