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There are couple of great resources available at Data Quality Campaign that may be worth your time, both helping educators answer the question ‘What is student data?’. There’s a video and nicely developed infographic that show the many different types of student data – beyond test scores – that can help form a complete picture of student learning.

As they mention, there are many types of data that can be gathered from many different sources, from teacher observations and engagement (formative assessment) to testing (quizzes, tests, interim and summative assessment) to demographics and student actions. All of these data can be used to form a full picture of student learning.

Gathering Data: Assessment in Three Cycles

When it comes to assessment data, teachers and students should note these three principles: data needs to be timely, understandable, and applicable. The timeliness of data helps determine just how actionable it is in informing teaching choices and student learning. It can be both a) in the moment, and b) returned quickly. Sometimes in the assessment world, the terms short-, medium- and long-cycle are used to describe examples of timely data.

Short-cycle data could be that gathered by means of formative assessment. With formative assessment, both teachers and student have the opportunity to make immediate adjustments to instruction and learning tactics.

Medium-cycle data could be gathered from benchmark and interim assessments. The interim assessment, given at three intervals through the year – fall, winter and spring – provides multiple data points which can be used to measure student growth. Using data from the fall assessment, teachers can work together in a PLC to understand where their students are starting. What do they understand? What do they need additional support in? Then they can develop learning plans and set goals with their students.

Longer-cycle data can come from summative or year-end assessments that show what students have learned throughout the course of the school year. A summative assessment is how we refer to a culminating assessment – one that certifies and reports whether a student has learned a prescribed set of content. Variations on these assessments can be used to cover material in a single unit or over the entire school year.

Triangulating Data

Using data gathered from all of these assessments can be married with data such as student demographics (age, race, gender, economic status) as well as student actions such as attendance, behavior, or extracurricular participation, to render a complete picture of student learning. It also can help teachers create flexible groups to support student learning needs; something NWEA’s Virginia Williams has blogged about. With any data, and particularly assessment data, there are three keys to its effectiveness:

1. Provide teachers access to the data as soon as possibleafter the administration of the assessment. Whether through the assessment system, a data warehouse, SIS or a spreadsheet, get the data to the teachers immediately so the action can begin; time is of the essence!

2. Schedule time for teachers to meet– grade level, content or vertical teams, staff meetings, data teams, PLCs, TLCs, whatever system you use for teacher collaboration. This time should be regular and even habit forming, in fact. In the beginning, teachers will need some basic aspects of data literacy to fully understand what they see in the data and to be able to talk about it in quantifiable language.

3. Provide time for teachers to plan to apply the data. Teachers will have the opportunity to deepen their data literacy as they become more adept at knowing which kinds of data to use for which decision. These habits of regularly looking at data and then acting upon it to advance student learning can be reinforced by dialoguing in a systemic way about the data.

Student data can come in different types and from different sources, but it needs to be actionable. How do you make sense of student data in your classroom? Share your thoughts with us via Twitter (@Assess2Learn).