Practice Activity: Using Data to Inform Instruction and Staff Development

National Experts

The process of examining student work to diagnose strengths and needs and then to use the information to make instructional decisions is supported by a number of research studies and national experts in educational leadership, formative assessments and the collaborative examination of student work.

Black and Wiliam in their 1998 Phi Delta Kappan article, “In the Black Box: Raising Standards through Classroom Assessment,” describe the research that documents the strong link between improved student achievement and the use of formative data. They assert,

“There is a body of firm evidence that formative assessment is an essential component of classroom work and that its development can raise standards of achievement. We know of no other way of raising standards for which such a strong prima facie case can be made.”

Thomas Guskey argues that the assessments most likely to improve student achievement are those that teachers create. You can read online his February 2003 Educational Leadership article entitled, How Classroom Assessments Improve Learning.

“Assessment should be used not simply to judge how much kids know but to illuminate the nature of their knowledge and understandings in order to help kids learn.... Common sense tells us that on-going, classroom-based assessment can serve this purpose. Teachers interacting with students will observe the nuances of their cognitive growth and development over time, their individual strengths and weaknesses in ways that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to capture through standardized or conventional testing alone.” Niyogi, Nivedita S. 1995. The Intersection of Instruction and Assessment: The Classroom. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
“To assess student achievement accurately, teachers and administrators must understand the achievement targets their students are to master. They cannot assess (let alone teach) achievement that has not been defined”. Stiggins, Richard J. 2001. “The Principal’s Leadership Role in Assessment.” NASSP Bulletin (January 2001): 13–26.

Joan Richardson, well-respected expert on professional development and editor of the NSDC Results newsletter, believes that

“The practice of having teachers work together to study student work is one of the most promising professional development strategies in recent years. Examining student work helps teachers intimately understand how state and local standards apply to their teaching practice and to student work. Teachers are able to think more deeply about their teaching and what students are learning. As they see what students produce in response to their assignments, they can see the successes as well as the situations where there are gaps. In exploring those gaps, they can improve their practice in order to reach all students.”

Rick DuFour identified a number of staff development needs for teachers to collect and discuss the data that would focus them on what students were learning. In his article, “The Learning-Centered Principal,” he describes his role in the following way:

“As principal, I played an important role in initiating, facilitating, and sustaining the process of shifting our collective focus from teaching to learning. To make collaborative teams the primary engine of our school improvement efforts, teachers needed time to collaborate. Teachers, accustomed to working in isolation, needed focus and parameters as they transitioned to working in teams. They needed a process to follow and guiding questions to pursue. They needed training, resources, and support to overcome difficulties they encountered while developing common outcomes, writing common assessments, and analyzing student achievement data.”

Additional Online Articles:

Improving Teaching and Learning with Data-Based Decisions: Asking the Right Questions and Acting on the Answers by Nancy Protheroe in the Summer 2001 issue of ERS Spectrum.

Assessing Student Learning-and My Teaching-Through Student Journals by physics teacher Bill Heinmiller finds the challenges of using student journals as an embedded assessment strategy are amply repaid by the benefits.

Assessing Student Understanding with Interactive-Collaborative-Electronic Learning Logs by science teacher Paul Hickman describes how technology enhances communication between student research groups and their teacher.

Implementing Portfolios and Student-Led Conferences middle school teacher Jennifer Williams describes an assessment strategy that caught on with teachers of all subject areas.

Using Self Evaluation with Fourth Graders by Leah Poynter describes how elementary school students learn to assess their own achievement.

A Snapshot of Assessment in a Standards-Based Classroom by Carol Midgett, a member of the NCTM Standards 2000 Writing Team, describes a single classroom activity to show how assessment provides guidance for the learning journey.

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