Why and How to Involve Students In The Study Of Their Data
Data-driven is a ubiquitous phrase in modern education. The term typically refers to using the results of standardized tests—yearly state assessments and scheduled district assessments—to inform the focus and pacing of classroom instruction.
If we limit our use of data to this purpose, however, we are missing the great potential of gathering data related to a wider range of evidence of learning. For example, taking note of individual patterns in writing and math assignments, reading interests and stamina, and homework habits can be collected and analyzed with students and by students to help them set and reach goals.
Usually, though, student data is prepared in a form meant for adults to make informed decisions about instruction that will support all students in meeting standards. But the power of data to improve student achievement is not fully leveraged if students—the most important stakeholders—are left out of the process.
When students own their progress, they will demonstrate how much they care about working hard and learning, how convinced they are that hard work leads to growth, and how they have built strategies to focus, organize, and navigate challenges.
Why Students Should Analyze Their Own Data
Providing students with the opportunity to identify their own strengths and weaknesses through data analysis gives them a powerful tool for learning. Students become actively engaged in their growth when they analyze and use their data. Using data with students enhances students’ capacity to access, analyze, and use data to effectively reflect, set goals, and document growth. Students have a sense of ownership over the goals they set because they’re informed by data they understand.
When students know their data, it moves conversations about progress from abstract, generic goals—like study more or try harder—to student-created, targeted goals—like increase my reading level by 1.5 years or master 90 percent or more of my learning targets—and provides them with skills to track those goals.
How To Include Students In The Study of Their Own Data
The benefits for involving students in the study their data are clear, but how do you start? Below are five important aspects of this strategy.
Find Student-Friendly Data
Choosing what data to analyze with students is not a decision to be taken lightly. Not all data is equally student-friendly, because they may struggle to comprehend facets of data like scale scores and percentiles. However, they can easily identify strengths and weaknesses, which is a perfect introduction to showing students how to find their own data. Clearly identify items that function as progress indicators and encourage students to focus on finding those.
Empower Students To Accurately And Honestly Assess Their Current Level Of Proficiency
Students must understand where they are in relation to the standards in order to set and achieve goals. We often—in an attempt to protect students’ self-esteem—avoid having real discussions regarding mastery of standards. This approach actually blocks students’ understanding of what it takes to succeed which prevents them from advancing.
Make Data Study A Habit
The study of data should be an ongoing part of a classroom culture in which students are always collecting and analyzing information in order to improve. With so much data being generated on a daily basis, sharing test scores with students a few times a year is simply ineffective because they are not able to take any meaningful corrective actions.
Incorporate Goal Setting and Scales
It’s much easier for students to interpret their progress if they understand what they are trying to achieve and how they are expected to demonstrate mastery. It’s important to not only unpack learning standards and objectives in a student-friendly manner, but also encourage students to set—and regularly revisit—their own goals.
Demonstrate Progress Toward Standards By Making Grading Transparent
With the current state of technology, there’s no reason for students to be unclear about what it takes to reach a learning standard. Too often, students have no idea why they received a certain grade or why they continue to struggle with a particular concept.
Regularly using data with students is one way to demystify learning progress. It helps students see actual evidence of what they know and are capable of. It also helps improve their mindset from all or nothing—“I succeeded” or “I failed”—to a complex understanding of growth over time.
It's Time to Work With, Not For Students
Data study is useless if it isn’t used to improve learning. While data inquiry and analysis is an integral component of many schools' professional development cycles, it is often something that happens about students rather than with them.
Bringing data analysis into the classroom can transform a practice traditionally reserved for educators into an opportunity for student leadership. Investigating data takes different forms at different developmental stages, but even the youngest students can benefit from opportunities to explore data related to their academic growth.
Encouraging students to own their data should be a school-wide endeavor. Just watch how it can change the conversations between educators and their students in this video of students in a school in Rochester, NY.