Student Data: Gather it, Use it, Love it

Editor’s note: Pennsylvania teacher Kerin Steigerwalt has been featured in the most recent issue of our weekly e-newsletter, CenterED Weekly, and her story continues in the upcoming issue. If you want to read more about how this teacher has made the Marzano framework a vital part of her practice, subscribe now to the newsletter — it’s free and full of practical advice for teachers to use in their classrooms.

Kerin Steigerwalt has been teaching language arts to 7th grade students long enough to see a few trends in education come and go — and sometimes come back around. She’s also experienced enough to know what tips and techniques actually work in her classroom.

One of those “tips” she’s gotten a great deal of mileage out of is the importance of data in her assessments of student performance. After getting her master’s degree in Dr. Robert Marzano’s Art and Science of Teaching through the National Institute for Professional Practice, Steigerwalt became convinced that the best way to improve her practice and, subsequently, her students’ achievement, was to gather “hard data” that answered the following questions:

  • How effective was this lesson or activity?
  • Do students know why they’re doing this?
  • How much learning did my students gain?
  • Do they feel like they’ve grown?
  • And how much did they actually grow?

What, exactly, is hard data?

In an email to Learning Sciences Marzano Center, Steigerwalt explains in greater detail what she means by “hard data.”

“There are multiple ways I’ve learned to gather and use ‘hard’ — numerical —data. First, I’ve instituted pre, mid-year, and post tests in the areas of grammar, writing, and literary terms. These are broad topic tests that give me an overall idea of the progress the students are making in major curricular areas,” Steigerwalt explains.

Students take their results and code them on progress charts so that they can visualize any unexpected gains or areas where there is room for improvement.

“It’s an amazing thing to see an adolescent truly proud of getting four more questions right than they did on the previous round,” Steigerwalt says.

She has also revamped many of her units and assessments to reflect Marzano’s 4-point scoring scale. Even though she is still using her district’s A-F grading system, she designs her tests so that she can tell if a student has succeeded at level 1, 2, 3, or 4.

And then there’s qualitative data

Steigerwalt goes beyond the facts and figures to gather more subjective information about how students feel about their own academic progress. She checks in with them about where they might be struggling or what they might need more help with.

“We do a LOT of non-verbal feedback in my room. I will ask between five and six times in one lesson for them to give me a thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or thumbs shaky on how they’re feeling,” she says. “I sometimes ask them, ‘on a scale of one being the worst thing you’ve ever had to do and five being you could teach my next class, where do you feel you are?’

She credits her learning experiences through the National Institute for Professional Practice for reminding her about one of the most important but easily ignored sources of data. “Who better to ask about how they are progressing than the students themselves? Now, I love seeing all those ‘thumbs down’ and ‘shaky’ slowly move to ‘up’!”

Putting all the data together

Steigerwalt uses all of the data she gathers along the way to inform and shape the instruction she provides. “Formative assessment really drives my planning,” she says. “In some cases, I’ll think that I have my week planned out, take a look at the formative assessments from the day, and realize that things need to change: one group of students needs more time on a concept, another group is flying through it with no effort … Either way, it means I need to adjust my teaching to meet them where they are.”

Food for thought: How have you involved your students in gathering and assessing data?

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